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James Nesbitt up for award for The Secret killer dentist role

By Ivan Little

Coleraine actor James Nesbitt has been shortlisted for the prestigious best actor award for his critically-acclaimed portrayal of killer dentist Colin Howell in the ITV drama, The Secret.

And Nesbitt's fans are hoping the star's recent jinx at glittering prize ceremonies will be broken at the Royal Television Awards in London later this month.

The Secret attracted huge audiences across the UK last year when it aired on ITV and showed how Howell and his mistress Hazel Stewart murdered their spouses - Lesley Howell and Trevor Buchanan - and tricked police into thinking their deaths were the result of a bizarre suicide pact in 2009.

The gruesome murders only came to light after Howell confessed to the crimes 18 years later and named his lover, the former Sunday School teacher Stewart, as his accomplice.

The BBC series, Line of Duty, which was filmed in Belfast and starred Enniskillen actor Adrian Dunbar, has also been nominated in the RTS best drama category. Jed Mercurio, is up for the best writer award for the series.

The BBC's national coverage of the Battle of the Somme centenary commemorations in France last year has been nominated in the Best Live programming section.

But most local interest will centre on The Hobbit star Nesbitt, whose rivals for the RTS acting award are Robbie Coltrane for the Channel 4 drama National Treasure and Adeel Akhtar for his role in the powerful drama, Murdered by My Father.

Julie Walters, who played the part of the late Mo Mowlam in the movie Mo, has also been shortlisted in the RTS best female actor category for National Treasure, which was inspired by Operation Yewtree, the police operation that resulted in the prosecution of a number of veteran TV stars in Britain.

Sandi Toksvig will host the ceremony in London after Piers Morgan dropped out. It follows a petition to have him removed over his support for American President Donald Trump.

Nesbitt, who has won best actor awards for his role as civil rights campaigner Ivan Cooper in Bloody Sunday and comedy awards for Cold Feet, was tipped for a gong at the BAFTAs in 2015.

That was for the BBC series, The Missing, in which he played the role of a distraught father whose son was abducted on a family holiday in France.

Some critics had said the 52-year-old actor, who recently starred in a new series of Cold Feet and Stan Lee's Lucky Man, was a racing certainty to win the Bafta two years ago.

But in the end the judges ignored Nesbitt - and Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch - and gave the award to English actor Jason Watkins for the ITV drama The Lost Honour of Christopher Jeffries, in which he played the part of the man who was falsely accused of involvement in the murder of his tenant Joanna Yeates. In his acceptance speech, Watkins said he hoped he and Nesbitt would remain friends to which the Ulster actor jokingly mouthed the word "no".

On social media a number of fans expressed outrage that Nesbitt had been overlooked. But friends said he took the whole Bafta disappointment in his stride.

Ironically, Jason Watkins also starred in The Secret in the role of Pastor John Hansford from Coleraine Baptist Church, who offered Howell and Stewart counselling.

Nesbitt had expressed an early interest in playing the part of Howell after reading Deric Henderson's book on the killings carried out in Coleraine, not far from where the actor grew up.

Some of the scenes of the drama were filmed by Hat Trick Productions near Nesbitt's family home close to Castlerock and late last year the series won the best drama gong in the Royal Television Society's Northern Ireland programme awards, held in the MAC in Belfast.

It was also revealed that more people here watched The Secret last year than Northern Ireland's football games at the European Championships in France.

The national RTS awards will be held next Tuesday, March 14 at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London's Park Lane.

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