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24 September 2014

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Keeley Hawes as Ella Macbeth

Ella Macbeth (Keeley Hawes)


Wife to Joe, Ella Macbeth is devoted to two things - her husband, and Docherty's restaurant, where she's the icily efficient maitre d'. She had wanted to start a family with Joe, but this desire was thwarted when she had a baby which died after a difficult birth.

Ambitious and driven, she's not happy about the way Duncan Docherty takes all the credit for Joe Macbeth's work - and she's willing to take any action needed to advance her husband's interests.



Keeley Hawes

Talking about her role as Ella Macbeth, Keeley Hawes explained that playing a woman who has lost her baby was a huge challenge.

"Most of my scenes are emotional in one way or another but the scene with the baby was actually quite disturbing.

"I'd just had a baby, three months before, and although being a mother helped me get in touch with the right feelings, I had to separate myself from it all because I was talking about a tiny baby and I had my little one at home. I was quite emotional anyway because I'd just given birth," she reveals.

It was the quality of Peter Moffat's script which tempted Keeley back in front of the cameras so soon after giving birth. The star of Spooks and Tipping the Velvet explains: "I was thinking about going back to work when the script came through the door and I couldn't believe how fantastic it was.

"I thought it was so cleverly done and when reading some of the lines, the hairs stood up on the back of my neck.

"I love the play, too – it's something I've aspired to do. I'd also seen Hawking, which Peter Moffat wrote (starring Benedict Cumberbatch) and thought that was brilliant."

Despite the play's darkness, there were amusing moments.

"We all laughed a lot," says Keeley. "You get that many boys [her co-stars] in a room and you're going to laugh. Everybody got on so well. It has to be kept light when you're talking about stabbing people to death or you're being showered in blood, otherwise it could all have been quite depressing. There'd be fits of giggles – it was all quite light-hearted."

Explaining what motivates the ambitious and feisty Ella Macbeth, Keeley says, "I think the loss of the baby means that she's very damaged – although that's no excuse for what then happens! Because of her job and the status she has within the restaurant, she has to be seen to be holding it together at all times.

"So when she brings up the subject of murder, things must be at their lowest. She just feels that she's got nothing else to lose. She's lost her baby and is disturbed that Joe and she have not talked about it or expressed any of their emotions.

"Also, they feel like they're not appreciated or respected for what they do at the restaurant. It almost sounds like there should be some sort of excuse for what happens, but there's no excuse really," stresses Keeley.

Asked if the viewers will understand why Ella is driven to the ultimate crime, Keeley replies, "Hopefully. I watched it and I didn't come away full of hate for her. I had a shred of sympathy for her; and it's not like she runs off into the sunset. The whole thing is a tragedy."

Keeley had no qualms about appearing in "the Scottish play". "I don't really have any of those superstitions about it," she says with her infectious laugh, "and nothing went horribly wrong."

Keeley's research included watching Dame Judi Dench - and having a slap-up meal.

"My husband (Spooks co-star Matthew MacFadyen) bought me the DVD [of the 1979 Macbeth starring Judi Dench] so we sat and watched it," she explains. "I also went along to a successful restaurant called Locanda Locatelli. We had lunch there and then went into the kitchen where I met a fantastic lady, the wife of the head chef, who was the Ella of that restaurant.

"You could see the relationship working in a Michelin-starred restaurant. It was fantastic to have had the opportunity to meet her and see what it is like running a restaurant."

Despite Ella's prowess as a queen of cuisine, Keeley herself doesn't lay claim to any cooking ability.

"My husband is the chef of the family; he's a brilliant cook. Actually, it makes you quite lazy when you have somebody that's so good at cooking under the same roof. It's all beans or spaghetti when I'm left to run it," she confesses.

"When Matthew was performing at the National Theatre for eight months he was out most evenings and by the end of it I was at a total loss. He'd have to make something on the Sunday and leave it in the fridge for me to have for the next few days. How pathetic!

Keeley feels that modern adaptations such as this help to bring the classics to a wider audience.

"I did one of the Chaucers – The Knight's Tale – and they were a huge success," she adds.

"So I think it can't fail and I think schools will probably be able to use them. There's no downside to doing it."

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