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My Mother And Other Strangers actress Hattie 'had no idea how beautiful Northern Ireland is'

Hattie Morahan has a starring role in new Second World War drama My Mother And Other Strangers, which is set in Northern Ireland. The actress tells Susan Griffin about playing an Englishwoman who supports the war effort to the dismay of some of her Catholic neighbours - and how she fell in love with the countryside here.

Hattie Morahan is mystified by the fact she was cast as a parish school teacher in a new Second World War drama My Mother And Other Strangers, as a result of her role in Outnumbered.

"I pop up as this really awful character Jane," says Morahan (38) of her part in the hit BBC comedy. "I mean, a lovely character, but the most annoying woman in the world, always has a crisis and has no self-awareness. I could not put the two together."

And yet Barry Devlin wrote the new six-part series with Morahan in mind for the lead role, Rose Coyne.

"This has never happened to me before," reveals the star, whose father is TV and film director Christopher Morahan, and her mother, Anna Carteret, is also an actress.

"They sent the scripts over with an accompanying letter from Barry. He'd seen me as Rose, and that was incredibly flattering. It's so rare."

Fortunately for Devlin, who also penned The Darling Buds Of May and Ballykissangel, Morahan was "thrilled" when she read the scripts.

"It's such a rich piece of writing and has so much to explore, in terms of the complexity of the character and the relationships, and the world felt so new to me. It felt like stepping into a part of history."

Set in a rural parish in Northern Ireland, the series follows the fortunes of the Coyne family and their neighbours, as they struggle to maintain a normal life after the United States Army Air Force sets up camp close by.

"There are thousands of people being plonked in a farm community like a spaceship, and (the story looks at) what tensions that throws up and how one reacts to them," explains Morahan, who studied English at Cambridge University.

"And then also the tensions in Northern Ireland, and my character being English and living there and being an outsider. She feels very aligned with what's happening in the rest of the UK and the war in Europe, and yet lives in a Catholic village and many of her neighbours are anti-ally, pro-German. It's very provocative."

Devlin, grew up in Northern Ireland, and many of the stories are based on events of the time.

"A lot of it is seen through (the eyes of) Rose's 10-year-old son, and Barry sees himself in him," notes Morahan. "And the older sister was inspired by his sister, so there was a great deal drawn from his own family. But he did say my character is a complete invention, not his mother at all!"

Rose is a mother of three and someone the actress describes as "a real coper".

"She's a schoolmistress. They're the middle class bastion of the village. They own the pub, they own the shop. Essentially her marriage is functioning and happy, but there are little running factions."

Then, along comes handsome American airman, Captain Dreyfuss. "She isn't looking to stray but finds her heart captured," says Morahan. "There's probably an element to her which has lain dormant for years. A romantic schoolgirl who had these notions of meeting a soulmate - and when she met her husband, had ideas (about her soulmate) that are different to what he actually is. So she finds herself conflicted and behaving in a way which is juvenile at times."

I took this photo of the view over Strangford Lough to Scrabo Tower on my mobile - July 2016. I didn't notice the unusual cloud formation till after I'd taken the picture! Submitted by Jane Gregory
I took this photo of the view over Strangford Lough to Scrabo Tower on my mobile - July 2016. I didn't notice the unusual cloud formation till after I'd taken the picture! Submitted by Jane Gregory
I took this picture on my phone on Thursday 21st July 2016. It was sunrise in Crawfordsburn and is just as it was-Beautiful colours! Carol Rowney
Photo taken at Drumcrow Jetty (known locally as Jason's Walk) July 2016. Taken on an iPhone 6+. Had to wait until the water settled as my Retreiver had just been in swimming. Keith Livingstone - Monea, Co Fermanagh.
Slemish from the Nursery Road outside Gracehill on my walk over to my parent's farm - submitted by Lorraine Mulholland July 2016
Donegal cows graze along the shoreline of Carnboy Lough close to Carrickfinn with Mount Errigal in the distance on the hottest day of year, so far. Picture by Liam McBurney
Hugh McCloy, from Moneymore Co Derry took this picture of Lough Melvin Flangans Point, looking across the lough to the mountains
Portrush beach - taken Mark McDougall
This is a photo of the old St Lurach's church in Maghera - taken by Mark McDougall. Autumn 2015
St Johns Point Lighthouse, in Co Down. Taken November 2015 by Ivor Anderson
Trevor Denton From Crumlin took this at the harbour in Buncrana. It will probably take more than a lick of paint to get this vessel shipshape again. Nov 2015
Newcastle Co Down. Taken November 2015 by Ivor Anderson
Arranmore Island Co Donegal. Taken by Eamon Macthomáis, Belfast.
Picture taken at White Park Bay Beach, Antrim Coast by Colleen Buchanan, Newtownabbey
Steven Hylands, from Banbridge took this picture of Clare Glen. You can see a herron in the distance waiting patiently to catch any fish swimming down stream! November 2015
A wonderful sunset high up in the Sperrin mountains. Taken in the Sperrin Mountains near Lough Fea by Steven Hylands Banbridge
This was taken at Lough Fea outside Cookstown by Cathy McGuigan Draperstown. Autumn 2015
Sheep Island, Ballintoy, submitted by Gail Whyte, Belfast
Mist rolling in over Binevenagh Mountain, Limavady. Picture Submitted by Eoin McConnell. Nov 2015
This photo along the North Down coastal path facing east over Belfast Lough shows a fairly rare phenomenon known as anticrepuscular rays, where the area of the sky directly opposite the setting sun appears to have rays coming from nowhere. (Photo by Denis Slattery)
Ballycastle beach at midnight. By Eoin McConnnell
Little Isaac Bradford (5) from east Belfast, plays in the water at Cranfield Beach, Carlingford Lough. Pictured by his dad, Andy Bradford.
A stunning evening in Portstewart. Pic: Alannah Morrow
A beautiful August day in Annalong, Co Down. By Paul Briggs from Portadown
Ballintoy Harbour on the Causeway Coast, Co. Antrim on Saturday 25th July 2015. I live in Brussels, Belgium but I am from West Belfast. I was over visiting for the week with my Flemish boyfriend and his family. Submitted by Emma Rainey
Victor Anton, from Alpharetta, GA USA, submitted this picture of Shane Castle, Randalstown. Summer 2015
I think this picture captures the tranquillity of Donegal. This was taken while holidaying at Dunfanaghy in July 2015. My son decided to have a paddle in the evening. Submitted by Andrew Tait, from Millisle.
Martello Tower, Crohy Head, Maghery, County Donegal, summer 2015. Taken by Victor Anton, from Alpharetta, GA USA.
The view from Arranmore Island looking back across to Donegal on July, 2015 . I live in Liverpool, I'm from Derry and was visiting Arranmore Island. Submitted by Martin McCauley
The Giant's Causeway, Bushmills, Co. Antriim - Taken by Frank Ryan from Dublin, June 2015
Patrick Hughes captured this stunning shot of Armagh Cathedral
View of the city of Derry as seen from Waterside area. Submitted by Frank Fleming June 2015
Holywood sunset - submitted by Derek Black June 2015
The road to mountains of mourne taken with an iPhon. Picture: Roy Goudie
The old church yard Cookstown. Picture: Roy Goudie
The mountains of mourne. Picture: Roy Goudie
My young daughter Saoirse Hanna, aged 3, enjoying the view at Antrim Castle Gardens (June 10) on a brief visit from London.Submitted by Emmett Hanna
Afternoon sunshine at Portavogie - taken by Ellen Thompson (Bangor) June 2015
Groomsport - taken by Ellen Thompson (Bangor) June 2015
Mother and father swans with their cygnets at Portavoe near Bangor- taken by Ellen Thompson (Bangor) June 2015
Strangford Lough, pictured by Phil Sloan
The Mournes from Keel Point - Submitted by Glenn Millar June 2015
Sunrise at Ballymorran Bay, Strangford Lough - Submitted by Glenn Millar June 2015
Six Mile Water Antrim Castle Submitted by Maria Kouzinoglou from Athens, Greece. June 2015
Castle grounds Antrim Town.. Submitted by Maria Kouzinoglou from Athens, Greece. June 2015
Legananny Dolmen, Co Down by Carson Harte
Armagh by Patrick Hughes
Armagh by Patrick Hughes
Sunrise over Belfast Lough. Taken by David Adams from the high rise flats in Rathcoole.
A picture of Dawn at Cloonatrig taken from the jetty at Cloonatrig, Upper Lough Erne. Picture by Ernest Parker November 2014
About the picture - it was a day of sunshine and showers, clearly seen on the horizon. When and where - On the way back to Belfast City Airport after a wedding in Carlingford in July. Submitted by Annmarie Meredith, living in London
This firey red sky was taken from my house in Derryboy. Picture by Scarlett Clarke. Sept 2014
Murlough Bay outside Dundrum. Sept 2014 - Submitted by Marie Gallagher
Wheatear (female) in prime condition to depart shortly for that long flight back to its Winter Grounds in Central Africa By Christine Cassidy, Derry
Coast line, Carrack A Rede. Taken during our annual family holiday 2014 - Andy Milford
Port Ballintrae. Taken during our annual family holiday 2014 - Andy Milford
Aurora borealis seen from Ballycastle, Northern Ireland, by Barry Lau
I was driving along the Strangford Lough shore road (on a bird watching trip )two or three miles from Newtownards when I spotted this magical view of hay bales with the lough and Scrabo in the distance. I thought 'isn’t Northern Ireland the most wonderful place to live?'. It was so beautiful and I had to stop and take a photo. By Noeni Bryars, Harmony Hill Lambeg.
Whitepark Bay on the North Antrim Coast. Photo by David Fennelly
Locals claim this building in Portbraddan, Co Antrim is the smallest church in Ireland. It was built 1950s as cow byre. Photo by David Fennelly
'This photo was taken from below Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge while I was on holiday'. Pic Andrew Carson, Westminster, Colorado
Pans Rocks, Ballycastle Beach by Gordon Douglas
Strangford Lough taken from Scrabo on a sunny June day, 2014. Pic Sam Brown, Comber
Causeway coastal route. Pic Michela Dettori
Stroove Beach and lighthouse Co Donegal with Lough Foyle & Binnevagh Mountain in the background - submitted by Christopher Tierney, Derry City
Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. Pic Stephen Kerr from Carryduff
Devenish Island- Co Fermanagh ...taken 1st July 2014..beautiful day out on Lough Liam McClean from Omagh
Mussendun: Peering west toward Downhill Beach from Mussendun Temple. Submitted by Barry Grayson, Los Angeles, CA.
Oak Trees taken on 6th July at Redcastle Co Donegal looking with Lough Foyle & Binnevagh Mountain in the background - submitted Christopher Tierney
This is the Waterworks otherwise known as the Donaghaguy Reservoir just outside Warrenpoint Co. Down at sunset the other night. It is a popular fishing spot with resident families of swans and ducks and has a walkway around it as well as the fishing piers. Submitted by Brian McCalmont
Taken on the road down from Binevenagh looking down on to Downhill Beach - one of my favourite places in Northern Ireland. Submitted by Rodney Harrison
Ballintoy harbour just after sunrise by Evelyn McCullough
Canoes at sunset, Belfast Lough by David J Campbell
Ballywalter Harbour. Photograph by Tim Gaston
Islandhill, Comber. Photograph by Tim Gaston
Islandhill, Comber. Photograph by Tim Gaston
Carrickfergus Castle by Martin Soutar - Carrickfergus Castle
'These photographs were taken during my morning walk on Gibb's Island, Killyleagh, Co Down. It really is a beautiful place' - Pic Laura Skinner
'These photographs were taken during my morning walk on Gibb's Island, Killyleagh, Co Down. It really is a beautiful place' - Pic Laura Skinner
Kircubbin harbour. Photo by Tim Gaston
'These photographs were taken during my morning walk on Gibb's Island, Killyleagh, Co Down. It really is a beautiful place' - Pic Laura Skinner
'I took this image early one morning at Lough Eske during a stay at the Castle. This was our first trip to the castle and we had a wonderful time' - Pic Paul Jepps
Titanic Belfast by Denny Huebner - 'I'm from from Florida in the US. Last summer we took a tour through Northern Ireland. We really enjoyed Belfast and the Titanic Museum'
The Bangor Maritime festival, June 7. Pic Maureen Ross
Jetty at Kinnegar. Photo by Tim Gaston
Ships at the Bangor Maritime festival, June 7. Pic Maureen Ross
Peace Bridge in Derry by Tommy Barrett - 'This photo was taken from the Peace Bridge in Derry during the Lumiere Festival during the City of Culture year 2013'
'This picture was taken at Island Hill in May, 2014'. Pic Kellie Bell
The Bangor Maritime festival, June 7. Pic Maureen Ross
Castlewellan Forest Park. Pic Uel Henry
Portaferry and Strangford by Larry Claxton. Larry said: "I took this photograph from Windmill Hill in Portaferry. It looks across to Strangford and the ferry is half way across the lough."
Kircubbin Harbour at dusk by Catherine Stone. Catherine said: " I am originally from Carnalea, now living in Cheshire. I was across visiting my parents at the weekend. I was blown away at this beautiful sunset. I just had to take a photo."
Portstewart Strand. Photo by submitted by Evelyn McCullough
Ballycastle. Photo by submitted by Susan McConnell
Albertbridge, Belfast by Peter Casey. Peter said: "I took this after hearing about the starling roost under the Albertbridge. They do this fabulous aerial display known as a 'murmuration' before they settle from the night."
Samson and Goliath and the Blackford Dolphin oil rig. Photograph by Philip McCloy from Newtownabbey.
Picture of Strangford Lough from Islandhill in April by Kellie Bell
Portstewart by Michele Bell. Michele says: "I took this pic of my four nieces last August one evening as we had a walk on Portstewart strand. It was the end of a summer holiday up there. I love this pic as it reminds me of fun times in one of the most beautiful beaches."
Bangor Marina. Photo by Josh Majury (13)
Artigarvan, near Strabane. Photograph by Mervyn Donnell
Peace Bridge, Derry. Photo by Tommy Barrett
Carrickreagh Bay by Sean Smyth
River Lagan, Belfast. Photo by Melissa Smyth. Melissa says: ", I took this image last year at the Chinese harvest festival. I love this image as when you look closely at the river you can see paper flowers with candles floating up the Lagan. Everyone is given their own flower and candle and you write on the bottom your hopes and dreams and if it floats up the river it will come true. It almost looks like a scene from a movie."
Divis Mountain by Byron Paterson
Brantry Lough, Co Tyrone. Photo by Hannah McKillion
Ballycastle by Beverley Davidson
View from the Blackford Dolphin Oil rig currently at Harland and Wolff. Photograph by Ian Wood. Ian said: "I took this sunrise picture at the end of my night shift. Thought it was pretty spectacular with such calm water and the reflection of the docks lights."
Carrickreagh Bay, Lower Lough Erne. Photograph by Martin Clyde
Sunset over the River Bann seen from Drumaheglis Marina and Caravan Park. Photo by Adam McVeigh
Portrush West Strand. Photo by Evelyn McCullough
Portrush. Photograph by Romana Pierzga
Lough Fea, near Cookstown, on Easter Sunday evening. Photo: Ciaran Kelly
Strangford. By Glenda Hemphill
Strangford. By Glenda Hemphill
The setting sun over Belfast Lough. Pic David J Campbell
Crawfordsburn Beach. Pic David J Campbell
A swan and her cygnets at the Lakeside Inn Car Park, Lake Road, Downpatrick. Pic Harry Thomson
Crumlin Glen Waterfalls, Antrim by Romana Pierzga
Lough Neagh, Antrim by Romana Pierzga
The sun rising over Groomsport, Co Down. By David J Campbell
Sheep in the snow, with Slemish in the distance. By Bill Guiller
Rapeseed fields in Hillsborough, Co Down. By Ricky Thompson
The Walled Garden at Bangor Castle, Co Down. By Maureen Ross
Ballintoy Beach, Co Antrim. By Evelyn McCullough
Carrick-a-Rede, Co Antrim. By Will Conroy
Morning canter on Whiterocks Beach, Portrush, Co Antrim. By Evelyn McCullough
Dunluce Castle, Co Antrim. By Emma Gornall from Belfast.
Frosses Road, Co Antrim. Pic Bill Broadhurst
Crawfordsburn Country Park - 'smoke on the water'. Pic David J Campbell
Portrush and Ramore Head from the West Strand, Co Antrim. By Joan Eakin
Bessbrook Mill pond with Camlough Mountain in the background. Pic John Patton
Boats moored at Strangford Lough, Co Down. Pic Ed Luke
Mountain Cornflower, taken on the banks of the Inver River, Larne. Pic Ed Luke
Lusty Beg Island looking towards Enniskillen. Pic Bill Broadhurst
High tide at Carnfunnock. Pic Brian McCalden
Snowy hills above Ballygally. Pic Brian McCalden
Lead Mines in Newtownards. Pic Eric Thompson
Windy morning at Port Muck. Pic Bill Broadhurst
The River Lagan at Lisburn on Christmas morning. By Gareth Baillie-Stewart
Old St Aidan's Church, Benone, Co Londonderry. By Martin Rooney, Newtownabbey.
The ancient Beaghmore Stone Circles, near Cookstown. Pic Liam McClean
Donaghadee lighthouse, Co Down. By Angela Couzens from Victoria, Australia.
Whitepark Bay: Pic Ricky Bamford
The Mourne Mountains from Legananny Dolman, Co Down. By Margaret Whittock
Beautiful noon in Carrickfergus. Pic Cathy Mullan
Gibson's Point, Bangor, Co Down. By David J Campbell.
Blackford Dolphin oil rig at Harland and Wolff. Pic David J Campbell
Old Mill outside Portaferry, Co Down. Pic David J Campbell
Carnfunnock. Pic Brian McCalden
Samson and Goliath at Harland and Wolff. Pic David J Campbell
Carnfunnock. Pic Brian McCalden
Carnfunnock. Pic Brian McCalden
'The silver lady' at Titanic Belfast. Pic David J Campbell
Dooey Beach, Donegal. Pic Pauline Lomax
Dunfanaghy Famine Graveyard, Donegal. Pic Pauline Lomax
Benone Beach. Pic John Hartin
Beach close to Downings in Donegal. Pic Pauline Lomax
Portstewart Strand. Pic Pauline Lomax
Oxford Island. Pic Debbie Deboo
This was taken while out on a walk along the North Down coastal path as the sun was setting. Pic David J Campbell
The Giant's Causeway. Pic Debbie Deboo
Taken at An Creagan when I went to photograph the local fungi. Pic Debbie Deboo
Taken during a trip along the Antrim coast road. Pic Debbie Deboo
Benone Beach. Pic John Hartin
Binevenagh Mountain. Pic John Hartin
Manann Mclir, the mythical Celtic god of the sea, overlooking Lough Foyle and Magilligan Point. Taken from Gortmore viewing point by Glenn Miles
Roe Valley Country Park in snow. By John Hartin, Limavady.
Mournes. Pic Brian McCalden
An otter on the bank of the Sixmile River, Antrim by Jim McAlorum.
Binevenagh Mountain. By John Hartin, from Limavady

My Mother And Other Strangers is far from a rose-tinted romance, and Morahan, who starred alongside Sir Ian McKellen in the 2015 film Mr Holmes, and Martin Clunes in TV show Arthur & George, credits Devlin with creating complex characters.

"They're pretty flawed and not always sympathetic, and you've got a situation with a family and a marriage that one becomes invested in - then my character ends up falling in love with someone else. She doesn't jump into bed with him by any means, this is the Forties, but just to entertain that as an idea is not the most sympathetic of behaviour."

The airman who beguiles Rose is played by Mad Men's Aaron Staton. Morahan was a huge fan of the US TV series and admits she was "very excited" to have him on board. "He was a real joy to work with and we could quiz him on all the gossip."

Staton was apparently fascinated by the difference between UK and US TV sets. "There were lots of moments where he was like, 'Oh I see, you guys don't have stand-ins'," recalls the actress. "And we were like, 'No, that's the BBC budget, you won't get a stand-in!'"

The period drama was filmed on location in Northern Ireland, and Morahan admits she had no idea how beautiful the countryside is outside Belfast. "And it's so accessible," she says.

It might have been wonderful to look at, but filming in February proved more than a little chilly, even for interior scenes, which were shot in a large, cavernous hangar.

"The Coyne's house had no ceilings because it was in a studio, so any time we did a scene in bed, we'd have an electric blanket and you'd snuggle up and never get out," recalls Morahan, who discovered she was pregnant shortly before the shoot.

"I got quite worried in the lead-up to it and told the producer and costume designer. I thought I needed it out in the open," says the actress, who's been with partner Blake Ritson since their Cambridge days.

"The wardrobe department had to be most creative, but it wasn't as bad as we thought it was going to be."

Morahan recently appeared in the small-screen adaptation of Sadie Jones' novel The Outcast and political satire Ballot Monkeys, and earlier this year was seen on the big screen as Queen Elsmere in James Bobin's Alice Through The Looking Glass.

She'll feature in another Disney classic next March, the much anticipated Beauty And The Beast, starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens.

"It was extraordinary," she says of the shoot. "The scale of it was just enormous."

Morahan's aware some people are cynical of remakes, but observes: "It happens all the time in theatre, people keep putting Hamlet on again and again."

"What was really inspiring was everyone involved is at the top of their game, and the creativity and attention to detail is unbelievable," Morahan enthuses. "People give their lives for years to something like this."

  • My Mother And Other Strangers, BBC1, Sunday, 9pm

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