The Line of Beauty
Interview with Tim McInnerny
Tim McInnerny, who plays Tory MP Gerald Fedden, chats about his role...
"Gerald is a relatively wealthy father of the family in the novel," explains Tim.
"His son, Toby, was at Oxford with the narrator of the novel, Nick Guest. He's a sort of golden boy Tory MP at the beginning of the Eighties and certainly, in those days, very, very young to be a high flyer.
"He's a bit of a throw-back; he's a liberal paternalistic Tory of the old days. He's much more of an Edward Heath-type Tory than a Thatcherite, but gets caught up in the lust for power – the same as everyone else."
As the drama begins, Nick (played by Dan Stevens) moves in with the Feddens – his Oxford friend Toby's family. He admires the charismatic Gerald and is in awe of his family's extravagant lifestyle.
"Gerald's a mixture of things; he's an old-fashioned Tory in some ways but he's also quite liberal – he knows Nick is gay, and it's OK. And they immediately take him into the bosom of the family, give him tremendous freedom and treat him like a son."
On the surface, Gerald's relationship with his wife appears to be relaxed and friendly but, despite the fact that they love each other, the MP is having an affair with his secretary - something which his daughter later discovers.
"I think it's one of the aspects of being in a powerful position that you consider yourself not necessarily beyond criticism, but that you won't get caught," says Tim.
"You're untouchable, which is obviously not the case. The family and the politics get intertwined at that point, as it's the daughter who gives the game away when she finds out by accident.
"I think the betrayal, if one sees it in those dramatic terms, of his wife and family comes about as a result of him getting out of his depth in politics, rather than being a part of his personality.
"I think they've been a rather happy family – certainly, he and his wife get on and indeed love each other, as far as I can tell from the way they behave towards each other.
"It's as though with this power comes the feeling that you have to live beyond the life of an ordinary person and if you don't, then you're kind of letting down your position somehow."
Gerald also becomes increasingly frustrated by his daughter's depression and tries not to think about the fact that she is self-harming, as she has done in the past.
His wife also shies away from her daughter's problems and pretends nothing is going on.
"It has happened before, but they think it's under control," explains Tim.
"He's not an unkind man; he's just a bit out of his depth. The way he's out of his depth with his daughter parallels the way he gets out of his depth with his political career.
"And he gets easily influenced by much more dangerous venal creatures on the right, and is seduced into all sorts of financial irregularities which, in the end, he pays for."
Tim was in quite a fortunate position, as he had read The Line Of Beauty three months before he was approached to play the role of Gerald.
"I thought it was wonderful," says Tim.
"I was asked to go and meet director Saul Dibb and because he's relatively new to the BBC hierarchical drama world, he didn't just see the usual suspects.
"I've never, as far as I can remember, been seen for the adult roles in what is basically a glamorous period piece. It's amazing how long ago 1982 seems when you're filming it
"I immediately got along with him and, if anything, the part is bigger and more interesting in Andrew's adaptation that it is in the novel."
When asked why his character, Gerald, is so obsessed with Margaret Thatcher, Tim starts giggling.
"That required a huge amount of acting, I have to say!" he chuckles.
Tim's giggles continue as he recalls one particular scene in the drama in which Margaret Thatcher is a guest at a party.
"A fantastic actress called Kika Markham was made up to look approximately like her," says Tim.
"I think Kika found it all rather disturbing, though, by the end of her make-up session, to look as much like her as she did!
"It was a very funny scene to film. Nick asks her to dance and he is a bit, shall we say, worse for wear! It's incredible – even she is a bit frightened!
"And, of course, Gerald is extremely put out that his lodger is dancing with Margaret Thatcher when he hasn't had a chance to yet!
"There were members of the Cabinet in the early Eighties who just went glassy-eyed, and it wasn't just that they admired Thatcher; they were actually in love with her!
"It was just extraordinary. She's like Napoleon, or something!
"And most politicians, when it comes to it, don't actually have that single-minded sense of purpose, I suppose - the difference between a working politician and somebody who considers themselves a world statesman – and she did.
"As far as she was concerned she had a mission, and kind of fulfilled it. She did everything she set out to do.
"Usually with politicians we don't expect them to do what they say they're going to do, but she went ahead and did it."
Does Tim think much has changed in politics over the past 20 years, especially as today's headlines are still full of MPs having affairs?
"Bizarrely I thought things had changed, but it seems to be exactly the same as it was 25 years ago! Politicians having affairs, or whatever problems they're having in their private lives, are of no real interest to me," says Tim.
"I don't think it necessarily has any bearing on how well they do their job.
"And we're so prurient and prudish in our society, it's bizarre. If it happened in France, they probably would have been promoted!
"If it can be proved that it affects someone's work and they aren't doing the job properly, then by all means get rid of them.
"Of course, it's not to say that it's OK to betray your wife and your family, but I don't see what it's got to do with the work.
"In terms of whether things have changed or not, I think what happened when Margaret Thatcher came to power changed politics almost irretrievably in this country, unfortunately."
Author Alan Hollinghurst became a regular on the set of The Line Of Beauty and was entranced by the whole process of filming.
"He's such a nice man," says Tim.
"We were, of course, terribly concerned about whether we were doing him justice as well, so occasionally asked his advice.
"I was talking to him at one point and he said he wasn't going to be on set the following week because he had to do a book launch tour of the States for the paperback edition.
"I said: 'Well, that sounds rather great, actually'. But he said: 'Oh no, I'd much rather be here!' Extraordinary! I couldn't understand it myself!
"He was charming, but he didn't interfere."
Tim is full of praise for his co-star, Dan Stevens, who is starring in his first-ever major TV drama.
"Oh, we hated each other – it was a nightmare!" laughs Tim.
"He's terrific. I think Dan's a fantastic actor and I think he's clearly going places – as are all the young actors in it.
"I thought they were all brilliant. I was amazed not just by how good they were, but how keen they were to learn and that they weren't arrogant, despite having this amazing break in this glamorous flagship production.
"They had humility in the face of their job, which I think is essential if you're going to be a really good actor as opposed to just wanting to be a star – it's a different thing.
"Dan is very, very talented and very funny and very intelligent, and I think they're all going to be around for the long term - as long as we're never up for the same thing, which is highly unlikely!
"And then, I'll get rid of them as quickly as possible!"
Despite the drama being set in the world of politics, Tim admits there were numerous funny moments on set – although he is a little reluctant to reveal all!
"Ooh, I couldn't possibly say!" he laughs.
"There were lots of funny moments, actually, mainly because Saul likes you to improvise your way into and out of the scenes, which puts a lot of pressure on you – but I rather enjoyed all that.
"There were lots of very rude ways of getting out of scenes at the end – although I can't remember a single one of them, of course!
"We'd keep going for ages and Saul would keep the camera rolling until, eventually, someone would do something terribly rude and make all the other actors laugh and filming would have to stop!
"But it was great fun, and there was a really, really great atmosphere on the set. We had a great time and, once it was over, I really missed it."
Tim has fond memories of the Eighties and, in particular, filming Blackadder, which he admits to being extremely proud of.
"I had a good time. I came in, particularly in TV, at the end of the Seventies and two of the first things I did were Edge Of Darkness and A Very British Coup, which I think are two of the best things that have ever been on television," he says.
"So I thought all television was going to be like that! I had no idea!
"Blackadder was such good fun, but it was, for the actors, six weeks' work once every two years, so it was a very tiny percentage of our time, and we had no idea it was going to be as big as it was.
"I think it's fab. But people thought, because it loomed so large on the comedy horizon, you were doing it for nine months of the year, not six weeks!"