Dawn French takes on the role of Beatrix Potter in Roald & Beatrix: The Tail of the Curious Mouse / Picture Credit: Sky One
Dawn French takes on the role of Beatrix Potter in Roald & Beatrix: The Tail of the Curious Mouse / Picture Credit: Sky One

The age of coronavirus has taken so much from us, that many are wondering just what it’s like to be able to get in physical contact with another human being.

Whilst some hold celebrities in such high regard, they forget they’re also just like us, as proven by the brilliant Dawn French who has opened up about how “wonderful” it was to be able to hug somebody whilst filming Sky One’s new Christmas Eve treat, Roald & Beatrix The Tail of the Curious Mouse.

Here, Dawn discusses the drama, what convinced her to sign up and what it’s like working with children and animals for an enchanting story that will be available on Sky One from Christmas Eve.

Why did you sign up for the project?

I worked with the writer Abi Wilson years ago on French and Saunders; she was a PA for Jennifer [Saunders] and me. She came on tour with us sometimes as well. She’s just a brilliant, sunny person.

One of the reasons she got the PA job in the first place was because she was an RAF child like Jennifer and me. When you’ve had a nomadic childhood you have a kind of affinity with people who have had a similar experience and it’s quite hard to explain to people who haven’t had that.

Can you tell us a little bit about the story?

Beatrix Potter is writing the tale about three blind mice and she’s wondering if anyone is taking her seriously, whether the publishers are just making money off her and don’t care what she writes. The key moment is this little boy runs into her garden, and that is the six-year-old Roald Dahl.

He’s very interested in Beatrix Potter at a particular time in his life when he’s had a lot of sadness. Meeting Roald gives Beatrix a but of confidence. From something he says, she realises something quite profound and carries on to a life of writing more brilliant books for children.

Were you a fan of Beatrix Potter’s work previously?

Oh yes. I remember having Beatrix Potter books in my bedroom as a child and loving the pictures. I had to revisit those distant memories when Jennifer and I played Porcas and Dorcas in a film called Little Pig Robinson (1990) which was adapted from a Beatrix Potter book. We had to dress as pigs and yes, that did involve wearing prosthetics before you say anything cheeky. Thank you!

The mistake is to think that Beatrix Potter’s writing is sentimental. You can be deceived into thinking these are sweet books but they’re not. The more I found out about her as a woman, the more I liked her. She was slightly spiky and didn’t seek out popularity for these books.

What was her relationship like with her husband, William?

Rob Brydon plays Beatrix Potter's husband William / Picture Credit: Sky One
Rob Brydon plays Beatrix Potter's husband William / Picture Credit: Sky One

I must say, Rob Brydon was genius casting [as William] because although we see his acting in things like Gavin & Stacey, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him play a part like this.

I just have to say what good fun it was, to be honest. We’d met in passing before and I knew we would get along, but to be able to sit there while they’re setting up their scenes is really good. In fact, we’ve met up since and I will count him as a friend now, definitely.

William and Beatrix do bicker a lot, don’t they, despite being very happily married?

Yes, definitely, but it’s the best kind of bickering. Their marriage has the bedrock of complete understanding, and total love and respect but yes, they do bicker. They frustrate each other, let’s put it that way, but they’re the sort of arguments that happen in a long-term, happy relationship.

What was it like working with Harry [Tayler], who plays Roald?

You do worry working with children that you’re going to have to film everything 20 times and they’re going to misbehave but none of that applies to this boy. He was confident, curious, attentive, cheeky and funny. He was very intelligent and a total delight to be around.

What was it like to film under Covid restrictions?

I genuinely thought this job was a cropper. I had two jobs that were supposed to happen after this one which disappeared, so I thought this one would go. But Elaine Cameron [producer] does not lie down! She just made it happen and all credit to her.

I think it was one of the first bits of filming that happened after the restrictions came in, so we were all working in this kind of strange fudge, but our director David Kerr was very patient and totally encouraging.

Were there any unexpected moments on set due to the Covid guidelines?

I had a very strange moment on set with Rob where we have to hug each other, and it was very good because I hadn’t hugged people for so long. Even my own husband is a key worker so we were being very careful with physical contact for those first few months. So to be hugging this other guy was so odd.

It was in the script and we were all being tested so it was okay to do, and it felt wonderful because I hadn’t touched anybody for so long! And you know, you suddenly realise in moments like that how lucky you are, and how much you love your job. It puts it all in perspective. Everybody was so grateful to be on that set.

Does it add anything to know that this is going out at Christmas?

Yes, it feels like you’re part of the treat, you’ve got that kind of delicious extra edge. People will be nice and full up and ready to be cheered up. I always felt that with French & Saunders specials and those sorts of things.

Picture Credit: Sky One
Picture Credit: Sky One

Roald & Beatrix: The Tail of the Curious Mouse is available on Sky One on Christmas Eve.

Words by Matt Johnson for Female First

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