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White Heat: Playing Charlotte over 24 years

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Claire Foy Claire Foy | 16:26 UK time, Wednesday, 7 March 2012

When I first saw the scripts for White Heat I was auditioning for the part of Lilly, but as soon I started reading it was the character of Charlotte that I identified with.

Jack (Sam Claflin) puts his arm round Charlotte (Claire Foy) at a demonstration

Jack (Sam Claflin) and Charlotte (Claire Foy)

I had worked with the writer Paula Milne before on The Night Watch, in which I played Helen, a blonde, quite vulnerable character - the opposite of redhead, ambitious Charlotte. So I knew I had my work cut out to convince Paula I was the right person for the job!!

Both Charlotte and I grew up in Buckinghamshire and I could really identify with her ambitions and excitement at 18 of going off to university to start her life.

Charlotte is different to me in many ways though. She is very much a product of her time, brought up in the 1950s nuclear family. Her brothers are taught to be ambitious, not her.

She's desperate to break out and change the world, and she does.

Charlotte is intelligent and is excited by people who don't want to accept the status quo but who want to challenge authority and make things happen.

Which is one of the reasons why she is so attracted to her housemate Jack. He's exciting and bold and political, and she understands him better than he does himself.

Jack (Sam Claflin) kisses Charlotte (Claire Foy)

Jack (Sam Claflin) kisses Charlotte (Claire Foy)

Jack has a difficult relationship with his parents, so does Charlotte, and she wants to be close to him. Unfortunately Jack doesn't really feel the same!

It was so interesting to play a character from the age of 18 to 42 because you see how relationships (like Charlotte's with Jack) can shape the decisions you make in your life, and only with hindsight, how much they affected you.

We had one director (John Alexander) directing all six episodes so it meant we could shoot scenes from episode one (age 18) in the morning, then episode six (age 42) in the afternoon.

That was a huge challenge. Not only because our 1965 and 1989 make-up and hair was so different and complex to change but also because we were shooting across entire decades of people's lives.

We had to make sure we each knew our character's journey in the show inside and out.

For me, the most important thing to get to grips with was how Charlotte changes from relatively naive and excited to so politically-driven and independent.

I read quite a lot about women who were involved in the women's movement at the time and how their politics affected them personally.

I was surprised how little I knew about how much they sacrificed and how determined they were for change.

Music also helped me a lot to pinpoint certain moments in Charlotte's life and differentiate between the decades. From the Sixties I listened to a lot of the Small Faces and Buffalo Springfield and later moved on to Kate Bush and Kiki Dee.

Orla (Jessica Gunning), Lilly (Myanna Buring), Jack (Sam Claflin), Charlotte (Claire Foy), Jay (Reece Ritchie), Alan (Lee Ingleby), Victor (David Gyasi)

The housemates: Orla, Lilly, Jack, Charlotte, Jay, Alan and Victor

One of the wonderful things about Paula's script is the friendship between the seven flatmates and how that changes with time. We were lucky that as a cast we all naturally became friends and had an amazing time shooting together.

We had a week of rehearsals before we started shooting, when we each had time to talk to John (Alexander, director) about the different relationships we had with the other characters over the decades.

We had time to get to know each other and talk about what we were nervous or excited about.

At the end of the week we all went to the local pub near where we were rehearsing in north London (very similar to the one in White Heat!). It felt like we were a proper team.

I think that helps with the dynamic of the characters on screen. Hopefully that means you will care about these characters and where their lives are going to take them.

Claire Foy plays the role of Charlotte in White Heat.

White Heat starts on Thursday, 8 March at 9pm on BBC Two. For further programme times, please visit the episode guide.

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


  • Comment number 1.

    I'm 61 years old and began watching this episode with trepidation. I grew increasingly thrilled at the skill with which the mood of the period has been captured. Well done!

  • Comment number 2.

    I just watched 'White heat', the episode around the time of Churchill's death and state funeral. At the students party they were playing to 'Hang On Sloopy', The McCoys, and 'For Your Love', The Yardbirds, whoops?
    You just can't get the staff these days.
    "and sone of the furniture was too 'of the day' for penniless students. The place would have been full of old 30s stuff and dark wood. Grrrrr."
    "Yes!I hate sloppy un-narrative and historically slovenly set decoration. Talk to people who were there if you are too young or stupid to research more than the web!"

  • Comment number 3.

    The first episode of White Heat was set in the year that I first arrived in the UK "to be educated" and I saw echoes of so many people that I met over the following 7 years. I look forward to seeing where the series goes and I especially look forward to seeing how realistically the period form 1967 to 1970 is portrayed.
    The only distraction was the unrealistic set for the 1965 student accommodation and I agree with jdex about the music being of the wrong time. I hope that the periods portrayed in the following episodes will be more accurate.
    I find it interesting how we look back at periods like this and realise, now. how we were creating social history, even though we did not realise it at the time, just as the younger generations are doing today. I wonder how they will look back on what they did in this period when they are in their late 50s and early 60s?

  • Comment number 4.

    I thought the tone of the first episode struck a chord.A powerful one.Claire Foy was great as Charlotte,and Tamsin Greig convincing as the menopausal mother.My favourite scene was the one in which Jay confronts Jack with the radio,which is announcing Churchill's death.Jack defiantly sings "There'll Always Be An England"in Jay's face.....brilliant scene.

    As to the music and set decoration,well,the only authentic piece I spotted was the beaker with the yellow plastic holder....the music may have been out of time,but it was certainly 1960s somewhere.

    Looking forward to episode two.....hope not to be disappointed.

  • Comment number 5.

    The phrase "sounds like a plan" became quite common in U.S. television programmes a few years back, and I even occasionally heard people in this country use the phrase. But it certainly wasn't around in 1967 as your programme suggested in last night's episode!

  • Comment number 6.

    according to utube hang on sloopy the macoys and for your love the yardbirds were around in 1965 or were they out later than churchills death

  • Comment number 7.

    Have watched all 3 shows and, frankly, this series feels like a very extended John Lewis commercial, where the baby turns into a girl who turns into a woman etc but with the 1960s/70s in the background. zzz

  • Comment number 8.

    After watching newsnight the critics were all raving about this series saying it was comparable to our friends in the north. Not so very dissapointing all three episodes, I would have stopped watching it except the fashion/style is one of my hobbies and as a collector of 60s/70s fashion there may be some interest there for me. All the characters are hateful and have no redeeming features especially the landlord/lover/labour/son of toff yawn yawn badly cast that one. Charlotte is utterley pathectic and yes women are stupid but please naive/daddys girl/lover.
    The writer made sure that she had one of each in this sad story not a great yarn complete rubbish thoroughly dissapointing as if it is not bad enough the dates/ ages/cast nothing adds up the casting is really poor great actors not shown at their best,, Hope there is not too many more series like this!!!
    Whoever is responsible for this must answer their critics.

  • Comment number 9.

    A very cleverly crafted series, covering political, cultural, emotional and moral aspects. I was born in 1963, so can relate to the whole span of fashions, parenting, and lifestyle of every decade covered in the series. A fascinating journey weaving back and forth in time - Well done Paula, can we hope for more of the same?

  • Comment number 10.

    I love this series. It is what we pay the BBC for......

    I went out with a Jack-type vile man in the Seventies. He pretended to be a liberal/right on person but actually ruined several woman's lives. Not mine - I got out in time. His name was Graham A. Won't finish the surname, as he know's who he is!

  • Comment number 11.

    It may be that some of the settings / music etc. aren't quite accurate, but my memories of the sixties are not so much about what was going on (hippies, flower power, vietnam) as about relationships; and I think this is where the series really gets it right. The portrayal of love, unrequited love, parents and children, racial rejection, homosexual discrimination all seem to touch a chord deep inside. Bringing back memories of those vulnerable years as a teenager moving out into the workplace and into the reality of love, sex, alcohol etc.
    I'm really enjoying the series and think the characters are played with real sensitivity.
    And how moving was that scene in episode 3 when Lilly, going up the garden path, thinks about Alan 'if he turns around I'll know it's a sign'; and Alan, on his way along the street, thinks 'I must be strong, I won't turn around'! Lovely stuff!

  • Comment number 12.

    With this TV novella I 'd expect drama to resemble life not be as clunky as a political platform homily or manifesto or like catalogue of sociological and political ills.Like a public information film or tourist brochure about recent British social history.

    ''This is how people felt about racism and immigrants under Thatcher,these were the issues,the opinions they voiced''

    When I was interested in politics and social change back then I was grateful for the way dramas like this set out the issues and I blanked the lack of naturalism,the sense of ordinary life reduced to plot points,issue placement,character signpost,social issue,historical event reminder.

    When social change WAS important and we cared little about piffling acting,Art,the vanity of fumbling,flawed individuals portraying the vulnerabilities and trifling opinions and feelings of facsimile people,when we cared about the ''Big Picture'',when if there was acting and theatre to be done it had better get the message across about the reality of Life in the proper politically correct manner,and b****r the details : back then we were charmingly blind to our blundering rhetoric,we were suffused with dramatic irony in a totally lovable way.Like Jack.Like Charlotte.

    But here,looking back,like the contemporary, reflections of the main characters,me being as portentous as them,I most certainly DO care .

    I do not find the rhetoric of this drama,its efforts to marry character and sociopolitical insight at all lovable.

    And of course,the writers and producers have one heck of a job on.Rather them than me.

  • Comment number 13.

    I cannot care - the nuts and bolts and struts are too visible,I find myself looking at both characters and writers and real life as if they are obedient 2D cardboard cut outs being shuffled around.I feel like I am reading shorthand for 45 years of social and political history.And real lives.And I am not a wannabe writer,a character-shuffler ; I am a viewer,a spectator who wants to learn something new,to see the past in a new way.

    The drama replicates in this viewer the detached,dried-up,uncaring,people-as-ants view belonging to self-serving,stereotypical politicos and schoolteachers and bureaucrats.Or Darwinians.

    Unless my problem is with Drama itself - my problem is I have no conception of the issues facing the writer and actor.

    I find myself precis-ing script ,gesture,plot and people like a terminal lefty or feminist ( or perhaps writer-hack) deconstructing Thatcherite politics.In my omniscience,my predictive power,my laying-bare of authors and intentions, I fancy I am getting closer to life,how things are done,how it can be pulled apart and made better.How the People can be persuaded or pulled into line.

    This is not what I wish for with fictional narrative.

  • Comment number 14.

    @BigTonyI-I totally agree with your comments about the portrayal of relationships in White Heat and the sensitivity shown by the actors/actresses in it.

    Your comments make alot of sense.Lily is my favourite character in the series.MyAnna Buring has the makings of a great actress.

  • Comment number 15.

    I am really enjoying this, but there is some laziness around period detail. I'm sure others have commented on this.

    For example, saying "I'm good" in the most recent episode, when someone asks how you are is a very recent phenomenon, based on the growing American influence that has infused British English.

    In the first or second episode, Charlotte was drinking beer out of a bottle at a party. This only started in the late eighties/early nineties.

  • Comment number 16.

    I don't agree with a lot of the negative comments made. I am loving this series! The subtle changes to the flat and characters in order to demonstrate the changing times are nothing short of brilliant. How I would love to have been a researcher on this series - finding household goods, fashions, music, current affairs etc from each decade - wonderful. Well done to everyone involved.

  • Comment number 17.

    A powerful and moving journey. This series reminds those of a certain age how much influence the politics and views of the time shaped our future. It should also be a testimony to the experiences shared by the mothers and fathers of the twenty and thirty somethings today, who's own experiences are too often assumed as new.
    The turmoil Jack faces without his fathers nurture is very intense to watch and a reminder to us all how life and relationships can so easily fall apart.

  • Comment number 18.

    Wow this is probably one of the best dramas I've seen in years.No gratuitous sex,violence or bad language, brilliant cast/script/acting, so believable/relevent and to top it all Michael Kitchen in the last episode. Writers of Downton Abbey, Titanic (Downton on Sea) and Upstairs Downstairs hang your heads in shame!!!

  • Comment number 19.

    I am very surprised to read so many negative comments.I thought this was a superlative drama, very well handled and beautifully scripted & acted by some seriously talented young actors, as well as people like Juliet Stephenson & Lindsay Duncan who are uniformly superb in whatever they do.I was born 1954, so the early period scenes were greatly interesting:so-called 'swinging London' clearly far more fab than rural Derbyshire where I grew up.But the series caught well the social and political ferment of the times,even though it didn't always feel like that at the time.The human relationships very well done, and both moving and hopeful at the end (I was in tears!)Yes, there are minor niggles about anachronisms in language or behaviour,but anyone who thinks this isn't great drama-just go and live anywhere else for a while and watch their telly (minus BBC imports of course)Tremendous stuff,absolutely loved it!

  • Comment number 20.

    I moved to London in 1969 when I was 22. I have loved this drama and couldn't care less if the music wasn't absolutely accurate or the decor authentic. I think the flats I lived in were more shabby with no central heating and I went to bed with a hot water bottle, gloves and my overcoat to keep warm in winter. I earned £800 per year in my first job. What came across was the feel of the changing times, and the challenges faced during these years, IRA bombing, strikes (lots of them!), mixed sharing in flats (my mother was horrified), the advent of contraception and legal abortion, gays coming out, mix race relationships, and HIV. The last was for me the worst as my long time flatmate died from AIDS 20 years ago this weekend. I lived through these years and what was so great about this drama was that it brought back all those memories and certainly had the feel of the times, the passion and the earnestness. It was a joy to watch! Loved it. There was one thing missing and that was the great spiritual shift that happened during those years, it was significant.

  • Comment number 21.

    This was a piece of fiction made into a drama series where sometimes there should be allowances made for artistic licence. If you want to sit and note down all the goofs made in films and tv series then fine but there's no need to say that a programme is rubbish because a song was playing at the wrong time and someone was drinking from a bottle in the wrong decade. I am sure that the cast and crew would rather people were paying attention to the story and in this case the moral of it. I thoroughly enjoyed it and the ending made me think about friendships in my life that have maybe been negelcted. Well done Auntie!

  • Comment number 22.

    I have just seen the last episode of White Heat and just wanted to tell the cast and writer how much I enjoyed it. I found it to be a powerful and moving story with great characters. It was a very evocative and nostalgic piece. It reminded me of my own days as a student and growing up in Thatcher's Britain. Well done.

  • Comment number 23.

    Drama at its best! Just watched the final episode (isn't iPlayer great?) and like others was moved to tears. Young cast and old cast alike were excellent. I believe talent in the U.K. Is streets ahead of anything America can offer.
    Well done and thank you to all involved.

  • Comment number 24.

    Excellent! Really sorry its finished. With so much c**p on TV at the moment its truly wonderful to have such a brilliant piece of drama available. Thankyou to all.

  • Comment number 25.

    excellent... but - BLOODY SELFISH PEOPLE - all of us...

  • Comment number 26.

    I was blown away by this series The using of the music that was'nt EXACTLY the right year gave me the feeling that the writer was subtly placing a year where the action takes place then adding music that was slightly forward to show us that thr times were moving on or music before that year to indicate that times were moving up to the events shown on screen. The emotions and interaction between these 7 people was touching, moving, heartbreaking, callous, sometimes
    moved on too quickly but it was never boring or trite. I lived through the Thatcher years and was just surprised that Jack did;nt hate her as much as half of thr country did after the Poll tax was introduced but by thrn I think alot of his passion had gone (as it sadly does when one grows up). I have;nt seen such good writing since Andrea Newman in the seventies with ;A Bouquet of barbed Wite' (remember that anyone?) and the other one she wrote (name escapes me) with Trevor Eve playing Felix. Both were ensemble dramas and both were written by a woman. Jimmy McGovern also springs to mind but he was a different writer altogether as o he wrote with social policy and upheaval to the foreground.


    All in all, a wonderful series. I just hope the beeb bring it out on DVD.


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