Restless

Hayley Atwell, Rufus Sewell, Michelle Dockery, Michael Gambon and Charlotte Rampling star in William Boyd's Restless for BBC One

Michelle Dockery plays Ruth Gilmartin

Category: BBC One; Drama
Michelle Dockery swapped the 1920s costumes of Downton Abbey for platforms and bell-bottoms when she took on the role of Ruth Gilmartin in William Boyd’s story of wartime espionage.

“The 1970s was such a great era for fashion because it really stands out as a decade,” explains Dockery.

“Ruth’s look is very free and bohemian, not too fashionable, she’s not a vain girl. So we decided to go down the route that she’s more sort of hippyish than a fashionable young girl from the 70s. That’s why the contrast, when she dresses in a skirt, boots and jacket to see Romer for the first time puts her completely out of her comfort zone and what’s funny is that I actually felt uncomfortable in them because until that point I’d been wearing really free flowing clothes. So when I came to doing that scene I felt as uncomfortable as I imagine Ruth would have done. She hates that she has to wear a short skirt for Romer - it demeans her even more.”

Set in two time zones, Dockery plays Ruth Gilmartin who discovers her mother has lied to her Ruth’s entire life and is not the woman she believed her to be.

“At the beginning of the drama Ruth finds out that her mother was a Second World War spy and that is pretty devastating news for Ruth. It’s all about the discovery that her mother isn’t who she thinks she is.”

As the story unfolds Sally tells Ruth that someone is trying to kill her and she needs her daughter’s help. However, Sally must first tell Ruth the full story of her life as a spy; of her life as Eva Delectorskaya.

“I tried to imagine what it would be like if my own mother turned around and said that and it would be a huge shock,” explains Dockery.

It’s clear from the beginning that Sally shows signs of behaving oddly, which is evident when Ruth arrives home to find her mother sitting in a wheelchair she doesn’t need.

“When Sally first hands Ruth her memoire to read, Ruth is not convinced and believes these to be the ramblings of a woman showing signs of losing her mind. The moment Ruth realises that this is real is when she follows Sally to a gun shop and discovers her buying a huge shotgun. That’s when it really starts to sink in that this could all be true and it is only when Ruth realises that Romer exists that her barriers break down and she decides to help her mum.”

Up until this point Ruth has been living her life as a laid back, liberal, single mum and student and not very much has happened to her to date.

“She’s trying to write a thesis that bores her to tears and she doesn’t have any romance in her life. It’s clear Ruth has been hurt very badly by Jochen’s father and she’s just trying to bring her kid up well. However, her life is turned upside down by the information that her mother was a spy and still thinks she is being hunted and it’s at that point that Ruth’s life becomes far more interesting.”

Not only does Ruth discover her mother was a wartime spy but doubts begin to creep in as to the identity of her father whom she believes to be Sean Gilmartin - the love of her mother’s life. The more she reads about Eva Delectorskaya, she more she comes to realise that Sally’s true love was Lucas Romer. Is it possible that he might turn out to be her father?

“I’m pretty sure that Ruth, at one point wonders if Romer could be her dad. At the beginning she doesn’t really know what’s going on; everything she thought was true and safe turns out to be a lie and when Sally explains to Romer that Ruth is her daughter there is a moment where you can see it cross his mind too that potentially Ruth could be his. However, Sally knows he’s not because of the time frame between Sally meeting Sean and things falling apart with Romer.”

For Dockery working alongside Charlotte Rampling was a long held ambition come true.

“Charlotte has been an idol of mine since I wanted to be an actress, I’ve watched pretty much everything she’s been in and I was just really excited to hear that she was playing my mum. She has got such a brilliant sense of humour when it comes to the work, like all of us you take it seriously, but she doesn’t take herself seriously, she’s actually really funny. We grew quite close as it went along.”

The strength of the drama for Dockery lies in the female characters that Boyd has expertly crafted.

“I think the title refers particularly to the three women - there is an anxiousness about both the older and younger Eva which then extends to Ruth, who becomes far more restless as the drama progresses because she doesn’t trust anyone. She doesn’t know what’s real and what’s not.”

When the police appear at her flat enquiring about Jochen’s father, Karl Heinz (Alexander Fehling), his sudden reappearance sparks all sorts of questions for Ruth and she is immediately suspicious of him.

“Her mind is racing because she wonders if Karl’s appearance out of the blue is linked to Sally’s history and the only thing that seems real to her in the midst of all this upheaval is her son. Ruth doesn’t really know what’s going on.”

“What I love about the film is that there are these moments when the stories of the young Eva and Ruth run parallel with each other. Towards the end of the first episode, Ruth is off to meet Romer and I love that scene particularly because both characters are in disguise and they’re both out of their comfort zones. Eva on her way to meet Mason and Ruth on her way to meet Romer and the tension really mounts,” reveals Dockery.

“Ruth behaves like her mother and it was fascinating for her to do something that had already happened.”

Having access to Boyd on set in Oxford and Cambridge proved invaluable to Dockery.

“It was great having him there because if there was a moment where I needed to know something or wanted some re-assurance I could just ask him and I think it was fascinating for him to see his characters come alive, it was comforting having him around.

“It’s a fascinating story and what I love about the script is that it is based on truth. I read it about three times because it is a complicated plot but I think it will be really exciting on screen. I tend to just work with what I see on the page but what’s fantastic in Will’s writing is that it’s kind of all there and I found myself referring to the book whilst I was on set,” she adds.