Tamsin Greig has said she was not able to eat much on set while filming period drama Belgravia due to wearing a corset.
The actress stars in the lavish new series written by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, and said that wearing the restrictive item of clothing for hours on end was “awful”, but that its constraint on women was indicative of the time.
The ITV series, based on Fellowes’ novel of the same name, is set in the 19th century and focuses on the secrets and scandals among the upper echelons of London society.
Episodes and Friday Night Dinner star Greig plays Anne Trenchard opposite Life On Mars actor Philip Glenister, who plays her husband James.
She said: “I’m not going to be a complainer – (the corset) makes a very beautiful silhouette, and it’s brilliant for the shapes of the costume designs.
“Physically, we are not used to wearing that kind of equipment – because that’s what it is, it’s creating an image of something.
“It’s very, very hard work, because you can’t breathe, so you can’t do anything strenuous, you can’t raise your arms because of the constraint of the way the clothes are cut, it’s very difficult to go to the loo, and you can’t eat very much because there’s no space.
“But it gives you great posture.”
Asked what she did during her lunch break on set, she said: “I don’t eat meals – I have salad, because there’s not enough time or space to get it in there.
“But I do have a dresser who loosens off the corset at lunchtimes.”
She added: “It’s awful. But it’s such a picture of the constraint of women of that time: that you are brilliant, and you are terrifying, so I have to stop you.
“And it’s potent. And the women agreed to it. It’s really, really interesting, of those particular social strata.”
The Trenchards are a couple climbing the social ladder after humble beginnings, with James being a self-made man who started out as a market trader.
The first episode sees them following their recent ascent to the aristocratic society of Belgravia while having to deal with a decades-old love affair that comes back to haunt them.
Belgravia features a star cast including Dame Harriet Walter, Alice Eve, Richard Goulding, James Fleet, Tom Wilkinson, Paul Ritter, Emily Reid and Ella Purnell.
Greig praised Fellowes for putting two female characters – Anne and Dame Harriet’s Lady Brockenhurst – at the centre of the story.
She said that women like Anne in the 19th century would see their lives become “pretty dull” as they were left to run their households, rather than being involved in their family businesses.
“So it’s what you do with that time, and the notion that half the population are being unused,” Greig said.
“These extraordinary brains and wits, and opinions and ideas, are just not being attended to. And that’s why it’s so thrilling that Julian has put two women at the heart of the story – because it looks like a very patriarchal century.
“But, actually, what he was interested in is what happens to families when they’re devastated by emotional turbulence.
“It’s the women who manipulate things to their ends, so the men are the reactors to it. I thought that was very interesting.”
– Belgravia airs on ITV at 9pm on Sunday.