Silk: Maxine Peake on playing Martha

Tuesday 15 May 2012, 10:21

Fiona Wickham Fiona Wickham Editor, TV blog

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Series two of Silk opens on BBC One tonight, with Martha Costello now a QC. Actress Maxine Peake answered our questions about the return of the courtroom drama.

How has Martha's character developed in series two?

I don't know whether Martha has developed much as a character as we seem to stay well away from her personal life in this series and focus on her cases much more.

I think if anything she's becoming tougher but it hasn't been easy.

Martha Costello (Maxine Peake) stands in court in wig and gown

Maxine Peake as Martha Costello QC

You said "it would be extremely challenging for me to play Martha" when series one came out. What was most challenging about it?

I think convincing myself I could credibly play a barrister.

When you have an accent as specific as mine people do tend to pigeon-hole you. Especially as far as class and education are concerned.

I think people associate being middle class with a lack of accent. That is not the case, especially up north, and that a university education would neutralise any accent. We really need to change our way of thinking!

The amount of dialogue to learn too bordered sometimes on the impossible!

How do you get into character?

I have to create a detailed back story for each character I play.

I find it really useful to use music, literature and art as keys to their personality. What they like to listen to, read. Art that stimulates them. I find a song or painting which I think represents them.

A friend of mine, Lex Shrapnel, said to me after a Fleet Foxes concert that the beautiful thing about music is that you can tell a whole story in a few minutes and I think that goes for encapsulating a character's inner life.

Peter [Moffat] very kindly would adapt his scripts to fit my back story too. Which was fantastic.

Tell us a bit about Clive and Martha's relationship and how they test each other over the series.

Martha and Clive are now the best of friends and as with the people you love the most, they challenge and taunt each other.

I adore their relationship. As Rupert put it perfectly: they are like brother and sister who sometimes get a little confused!

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Martha annoys Clive by calling him a 'note taker'

Did you do any further research for series two?

I went back to the Old Bailey for a couple of days with Rupert this time and we sat in on a murder trial.

I also met up with a female QC at a chambers in Manchester and she talked me through the highs and lows.

With the cuts to legal aid it's very difficult at the moment and hopefully if Silk goes to a third series Peter might highlight that.

How do you feel during this period between finishing shooting and the programme airing?

I fortunately went straight into another job so didn't give it much thought. Although this year I felt we became much more of a team and did miss everyone a little.

We had the fabulous Frances Barber, Indira Varma, Phil Davis and Shaun Evans on board so we all had to up our game.

Can you enjoy watching your performance on screen or does it make you uncomfortable?

I hate it! It sends me into the depths of despair!

Which of the actors did you most enjoy working with?

I love my scenes with Neil Stuke, he's such an open and energetic actor you just have to react to him.

I bloody love Rupert, he's funny and terribly self-deprecating and I was over the moon when Shaun Evans joined us. He's such a great actor and I've always had a wee bit of a crush on him, but don't tell him that!

What was your personal highlight?

Getting to finally meet Frances Barber. What a woman!

Maxine Peake plays Martha Costello QC in Silk.

Silk returns tonight at 9pm on BBC One and BBC One HD. For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    I can't wait for this next series to start. I have missed the drama in my life!
    Andy, from [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    I love this programme! As a barrister myself I can associate with some of the content. I think Maxine plays Martha brilliantly!

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Silk is the best drama on TV. Totally gripped with tonights episode. I think Maxine is fantastic.She has come a long way since Dinnerladies. Keep going girl!

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Would Martha really have encouraged Brendan to testify against the Farrs knowing that if he went free he would be tortured and killed? I enjoyed the programme but felt uncomfortable with this aspect of the case, thinking she would have weighed the consequences and realised what was going to happen to him

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    This is a wonderfully wordy script well delivered especially by Maxine Peake . The addition of Frances Barber is the icing on the cake !

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Silk is a good series,but it has one fault. Many of the main characters who are supposed to be intelligent and strong minded are portrayed as smokers. Smokers may be intelligent or they may be strong minded, but they cannot be both !

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    fantastic program @fierce a dilemma send him to jail for 12 years or prove him innocent

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    I like 'Silk' very much, I thoroughly enjoyed the first episode of series 2, and think Maxine Peake is very good. But please, Ms Peake, please could you give an interview, just once, where you don't bring up the issue of class, accent, or being a northerner? I don't recall Richard Armitage, who is also a Northerner with a discernible accent, ever harping on about the issue. Please do give it a break.

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    Comment number 9.

    My partner and me love Silk, Great casting and fabulous scripts by Peter Moffat are a winning solution. Still reeling after last nights ending which has made you question everything Martha stands for. Any tv show that you still think about the next day in my book is award winning. Well done to the BBC

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Another great BBC production totally ruined by the incessant and unneccessary background ?music? Why! Why! Why! It ruins the enjoyment. So many of my friends say the same thing. When will someone listen!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    I believe this story is not credible; a simpleton bullied into committing acts of violence. Then it turns out he has a soft heart and turns himself in. In real life, the Farrs would have thrown him out as being too soft. Would someone who immediately felt repugnance for his crime have gone through with it? He would probably have a long string of minor convictions, about which we heard nothing. Clearly, he should have been in some form of care, and I think might have been if he had simply run away from the Farrs after they mutilated his toes. All fiction departs from reality but this went too far.

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    Comment number 12.

    Hello tony dawes #10 - thanks for your comment. You're right that the volume of background music is a common complaint to the BBC. The BBC did some research into this and Danny Cohen, the controller of BBC One, wrote this post on the TV blog last year about the findings: Is the background music too loud? Just in case of interest.


  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Just out of interest, didn't anybody notice the judge (who as a circuit judge should have been addressed throughout as "Your Honour", NOT "My Lord) directing the jury to return a verdict of "guilty"? Such directins were effectively outlawed by the House olf Lords in the case of John Stonehouse, some-time Postmaster General and Reggie Perrin impersonator, in1978. The judgement was reaffirmed in R v Wang, 2005 when they said (at paragraph 18) "We would.. answer the certified question by saying that there are no circumstances in which a judge is entitled to direct a jury to return a verdict of guilty." Just thought I'd mention it! Apart from that, a great episode.

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    Comment number 14.

    In reply to Redpaladin 6. Some smokers can be intelligent and strong minded, some of them are so strongminded and intelligent as to stand up for thier beliefs just like Martha in this powerful and gripping drama. More of this type of excellent theatre please.

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    Comment number 15.

    Maxine, please keep up the good work in addressing gender and class issues, too few people do this or are even aware: the time is now!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    What happened to the pupils Niamh and Nick?! :( They aren't in Season 2!

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Hello Fiona Wickham#12 - Thank-you for sharing Danny Cohen's findings, but they only serve to demonstrate how little notice the BBC takes. The persistent intrusive nature of the music on Silk- the volume particularly - flies in the face of the findings and promises in the article you reference. It astounds me that the programme makers cannot be aware of what a destructive force they are wreaking upon their own creation. Might it be that they "approve" the programme in a perfectly equipped cInema sound environment which does not adequately replicate the reality of most viewers' watching (and listening) experience? The problem is not a general one- it is specific to the ruination of this particular programme by the sound mix.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    This, along with series such as Planet Earth and Frozen Planet, is what makes the BBC's licence fee worthwhile. Silk is brilliant - drama I really enjoy - and Maxine Peake is utterly superb as Martha Costello. I don't know whether it is an accurate portrayal of a QC but I can watch her in this role for hours. She seems honest and with a conscience - not qualities that immediately come to mind relating to the legal profession - but she is one of the best things to happen in television drama. Thank you for the entertainment.

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    Comment number 19.

    The best series on BBC One You feel the highs and lows that Maxine portrays in Martha's journey. Absolutely great. I love a series when you can engage with the characters. I find myself cheering 'when Martha wins the case which is very odd considering its a fictitious drama I cant wait for tomorrows episode highlight of the week well done Maxine you make Silk feel more believable

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    Comment number 20.

    The first series was great so here's hoping the second one is too. One thing though - have I missed something - I thought Martha was pregnant in the last series but don't think this has been mentioned so far?


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