Agutter is Jane Clark
Agutter has a self-possession born of almost four decades in the
the actress, who found herself on an express track to fame after
starring in Edith Nesbit's The Railway Children at the tender age
of 18, admits she was slightly apprehensive about her latest role.
is about to be seen as strong minded Jane Clark, wife of the late,
flamboyant Tory MP Alan Clark (played by John Hurt), in BBC FOUR's
The Alan Clark Diaries.
Jenny: "I was thrilled about the role. The overall piece was
extraordinarily well put together and written, and Jane was an intriguing
character – a little bit of an enigma in the script. I relied
very heavily on meeting her and, initially, thought that the responsibility
of portraying her was quite frightening."
Somerset-born Jenny, who played MI5 boss Tessa in BBC ONE's spy
drama Spooks, discovered that she and Jane shared a similar background
of growing up in an Army family and leaving home for a boarding
the child of a British Army officer, Jenny's childhood was
peripatetic and the countries in which she grew up included Germany,
Singapore and Cyprus. When she was nine, she became a boarder at
Elmhurst Ballet School in Surrey.
those things are very formative," she says. "The world
of the Army removes you entirely from class and also makes you very
have that sense of travel, different societies and close-knit family,
because of moving around and the practicality of getting on with
things wherever you are. You have to make decisions in your life
quite fast; you're moving on, you're self-reliant."
now 50, retains the delicately sculpted features and slender, straight-backed,
dancer's poise that have graced a plethora of roles on stage and
she's talking in a private club in London's Sloane Street, where
an A-Z of designer stores would satisfy even those Absolutely Fabulous
fashion victims Eddie and Patsy.
is married to businessman John Tham. Her son celebrates his birthday
on Christmas Day.
meeting Jane, Jenny says: "I felt I came across a woman who
was extraordinarily energetic, amazingly youthful, very practical
and seems to live very much in the present – probably what
has stood her in good stead throughout her life."
continues: "Jane married at 16, so she went from one family
to her own family– she had her children young – so her
clear self-reliance comes from somewhere else; maybe the Army background
and being at boarding school.
Clark must have seen her as this wonderful, vital young woman and
somebody who was able to get on with things.
whole romantic idea of marrying someone and living in a castle must
have been extraordinary at the age of 16, but then there's the running
of the castle and the living there and the living with Alan Clark,
all of which she just took on and did.
we were filming at Saltwood, she was very forthright. She's quite
open about what it was like to live with Alan – she isn't
gained a unique insight into the woman who was married to the controversial
politician for 41 years until his death in 1999 at the age of 7l.
isn't somebody who delves into the emotional aspect of how difficult
it all was; she's somebody who enjoyed the life she lived, had some
pretty rough times when things were hitting the press, but dealt
with it more straightforwardly than a lot of people would imagine.
not retrospective or introspective, and these were all the things
I had to draw on to play the character."
liaisons with other women were grist to the tabloid headline mill.
He once had affairs with a South African judge's wife and their
two daughters – three separate seductions which, inevitably,
found their feverish way into the newspapers.
simply scornfully told her husband: "If you bed people of below-stairs
class, they will go to the papers."
Jenny: "If she thought it was a bad lot, she would have walked
out. But I think she actually enjoyed her life; she enjoyed her
time with Alan and felt secure in that relationship.
was angry at what happened, but wasn't eaten up by the anger and
took it out on him instead. She has talked about throwing plates
at him and has referred to him as an 'sh-one-t'.
she didn't feel, whoever he was having his infidelities with, that
he was destroying their relationship by giving all of himself to
somebody else. I think Jane had the whole Alan Clark and probably
the other women had some element of him."
at Saltwood in Kent lowered the drawbridge on a castle which combines
grandeur with down-to-earth family life.
grand, but it's a castle on a small, intimate scale and really is
a home," explains Jenny. "It has no sense of being ritzy
or glamorous, the glamour is in the history, not in the decoration;
and the glamour is also in the most amazing collection of art, from
Rodins to Picassos, Constables to Sargents.
castle is filled with paintings and books, but it isn't ostentatious.
There is nothing that is displayed in a way that looks as though
it's about money; it is all used and a part of it, with children's
drawings up against priceless paintings, but there is a real history
and that is what one is in awe of."
was also fascinated by both the history and politics of The Alan
was interesting to be involved in a piece that is historical, but
with a modern flavour. It is talking about politics from the point
of view of somebody who is slightly out of time – who had
a sense of history – which I don't think politicians do today
and I don't think they did in Alan Clark's time."
likens Clark's diaries to Don Quixote: "They have the sense
of someone out of time; someone with a sense of the grand in a world
that isn't quite like that.
had a sense of history which came from his father (Lord Kenneth
Clark, who brought the landmark series Civilisation to the BBC)
and from living in a privileged world, which gives it lots and lots
the age of 11, Jenny was plucked from ballet school and kept on
her toes as a young dancer in the Disney film Ballerina.
first played the wholesome Roberta ('Bobbie') in the television
production of The Railway Children when she was 14.
years later, following her controversial portrayal of a teenager
stranded in the Australian Outback in Nic Roeg's Walkabout, it was
full steam ahead as she reprised her role as Roberta in Lionel Jeffries'
legendary film about the young heroine and her family.
was flying high the following year when she won an Emmy as Fritha
in BBC TV's The Snow Goose and joined the Royal National Theatre
in 1973, playing Miranda opposite Sir John Gielgud in Sir Peter
Hall's production of The Tempest.
the age of 21 she was based in Los Angeles, where films included
Logan's Run, The Eagle Has Landed, American Werewolf In London,
Sweet William and Equus, a role which brought her the accolade of
a British Academy Award.
returned to England after her marriage and the only aspects of Stateside
life that she misses are her friends and sometimes the sunshine.
life is so much here and I didn't see myself retiring at the Golden
Crest Retirement Centre on Sunset Boulevard, talking to old actors
about what it used to be like in the old days," she adds, a
twinkle in her cool, green eyes.
2000, she was again linked with The Railway Children when she played
Mother – the role filled by Dinah Sheridan in 1970 –
and a very personal ongoing project for Jenny is a film, which she
will be writing and producing, about the life of E Nesbit.
I came back from the States people were still referring to The Railway
Children because it had been ever-present," she explains.
had come out on video, it was shown at Christmas and it had, suddenly,
another life. There was another generation being brought up on it.
just at that time when I came back I read something about Nesbit
herself. I was fascinated by why people were so obsessed with the
past and innocence and Lionel Jeffries' film, and I think part of
it is because it's an absolute classic.
other part is Nesbit and her ability to create innocence. I would
like to make a film that is a rites-of-passage piece, how we address
a full circle of perfect continuity for the actress who booked her
ticket to stardom in that enchanting Edwardian tale.
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