Home Television Anna Friel: Soul of the North Now Starring as Queen of Nashville | Television

Anna Friel: Soul of the North Now Starring as Queen of Nashville | Television


Anna Friel began to sing. Now she’s back, doing it again, for all of America to hear. As a child in Rochdale, she listened to her Irish father play folk tunes on his guitar, and together with her friends Clare and Louise started Cal, a band named after their initials.

This month, Friel’s image is on the rise on billboards across LA because she’s at the center of Monarcha new small-screen drama while singing about another musical family – fictional country music stars the Romans.

Friel, 46, plays Nicky, or Nicolette, the daughter of Susan Sarandon’s Dottie Cantrell Roman, the matriarch who reluctantly steps down as queen of the Grand Ole Opry stage in favor of her child. The tension in the drama, which premieres on Fox and was created by rising screenwriter Melissa London Hilfers, stems from the fact that Dottie’s other daughter, played by Beth Ditto, thinks she is the most natural heir to the throne. And then there is also an unexpected murder.

Long-awaited, as the show was pushed back due to the pandemic, it has so far received mixed critical reception. Hailed by some as a rhinestone-studded show, with big hairstyles and cowboy boots, others wondered if it could fulfill its ambition of doing for country music what Fox’s show Empire made for hip hop.

Friel with Timothy Spall in the BBC Two adaptation of Our Mutual Friend (1998). Photography: Peter Lea/Shutterstock

Monarch however, marks another push into the US entertainment market for one of Britain’s most recognized stars. And Ray Panthaki, his co-star in the hit British crime drama marcellabelieves any new attention is well deserved: “Anna is a fearless leader and her instincts are on par with anyone I have worked with,” he told the Observer This weekend. “Whether she believes it or not, I don’t think there’s anything she can’t do as an actress. Really. She immerses herself deeply in the characters, emotionally, physically – she puts the work in and goes in. And I keep telling her: with that kind of instinct and taste and commitment to truth, she needs to make movies in addition to being in it.

Monarch is not Friel’s first major role on American television. She was in black comedy grow daisies and starred in the second series of The girlfriend experience, as well as appearing in several big-budget films. But early in her career, she gave up living in Los Angeles because she wanted to raise her daughter Gracie in Britain, near actor David Thewlis, Gracie’s father. “My agents would love for me to go back, but you choose a career in America and you take your child away from his father. I had to sacrifice that,” she said shortly after the move.

The show is the latest sign of mainstream interest in the country music world. The genre has earned some accolades since Taylor Swift decided to move away from it in favor of pop, with Jessie Buckley strutting onstage in the British flick wild rose and the TV series Nashville belatedly derived from Robert Altman’s acclaimed 1975 drama.

But maybe more important is luck Monarch allows UK viewers to look back on Friel’s career and how thrilled it was during her long time in front of the cameras.

When she began performing as a teenager in the 1990s, her direct expression and serious manner were her mark of youth. She was on the TV magazine program 8:15 from Manchesterappears in Emmerdale Farm and coronation streetand got a role in Alan Bleasdale’s TV drama GBH.

Then followed the part that earned him those first newspaper headlines. Like Beth Jordache in Brookside, Channel 4’s Liverpudlian soap opera, she pushed the boundaries of early evening viewing in a famous scene where she kissed another woman, then challenged the audience with the line: “Well, none of us have yet been struck by lightning.” From then on, Friel’s outspokenness was reframed as sexually provocative and her romantic life was seen as fair game for redtop reporters. A relationship with handsome West End musical chef Darren Day was bait for columnists. A Good morning! the cover of splash magazine saw them promising “to make it work” at all costs. And when that romance ended, a brief interlude as Robbie Williams’ girlfriend saw a swerve into the grim end of the limelight specter.

Although she had some serious good roles, including in a BBC Two serialization of Our common friend in 1998 opposite Paul McGann and David Morrissey, and a role in a star-studded 1999 film by Dream of a summer night, his image as a person with a sexual interest persisted. When she was cast in the Broadway production of Patrick Marber’s play Closerit was part of the deal. Variety critics called her the “real find here” – she was “the nihilistic core of the play” due to her combination of toughness and fragility.

Friel wearing a dark blue raincoat looking serious standing next to a taller man in a suit
Friel as Marcella, co-starring Nicholas Pinnock, in the hit British crime drama. Photograph: Amanda Searle/ITV

These qualities have often defined Friel’s performances and yet it’s the emphasis on his appearance over the years that is fascinating to look back on. Now, as a star of marcella, Friel is considered an established talent. At the time, it was her slim figure, smoking habit, clothes, and childish looks that were her main claims to fame. When she was 22, a veteran journalist commented on her “cheeky” nose and “more or less perfect skin”, then summarized: “She is really beautiful, in a way that appeals to lewd women and men alike. . He went on to say that even her direct language didn’t stop her from being attractive. Clearly, Friel was one to make jaded men feel…invigorated.

This perception may have helped her land the lead role in an Almeida production of Frank Wedekind’s dark classic. Lulu who went on to play in New York. At 24, she took on the role of the doomed, promiscuous waif, though she failed to convince several critics that she was as comfortable onstage as she had been on the set of the Merseyside fence. “Anna Friel never looks less than delicious,” wrote the Observer criticism, “but the understatement that made her look natural in Brookside makes her seem flat here: her voice is fine and her gestures mechanical.

The Daily Mail simply delighted with her skimpy costumes and noted her apparent discomfort on opening night. “As she bowed for the last time, she smiled nervously and waved to friends and family in the audience, covering her miniskirt and crop top with a dress.”

Actors, like models, are used to being judged that way, but it’s a tough job. When Friel is gone Brookside she said she had “felt incredibly undervalued”, although the experience had empowered her “because I realized that as long as I do this job, I will be a commodity”.

In truth, there has been an increasingly benevolent tone in the coverage of Friel’s life. A rather cutesy wish to see her settle down has given a somber tone to reports about the end of her time with Thewlis and her subsequent relationship with Welsh actor Rhys Ifans.

Dealing with such personal scrutiny while remaining emotionally open as an actor must be difficult. Friel admitted as much when talking about his role in marcella. “You have to go to pretty dark places,” she said. “So I go to a corner, put my headphones on, listen to music, and get really sad. Sometimes I bring up hurtful things that I’ve been through, almost like negative meditation. Normally, meditation take me to a quiet place, but I relive a trauma and it is filmed.

There’s an unwavering determination that characterizes this kind of star – more, perhaps, than their ability to change persona for an audience. Unlike the chameleon type of actor, they are goal-oriented performers. His teacher parents, Des and Julie, spoke of Friel’s high ambition as a child, first settling on law, then taking acting lessons three nights a week and all day on Sundays.

Friel, thankfully, remains a divisive screen presence, a sort of Sigourney Weaver of northern England. She has an aura of boldness, even bravery, that makes a person stand out.