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Zawe Ashton on feeling galvanised after new film about violence against women

The actress, 37, stars alongside Hayley Squires in the 30-minute drama Maryland.

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A scene from Maryland (BBC/PA)

A scene from Maryland (BBC/PA)

A scene from Maryland (BBC/PA)

Zawe Ashton has said it was “overwhelming” portraying the reality of violence against women in her new film but that it made her feel galvanised to speak out against the issue.

The actress, 37, stars alongside Hayley Squires in the 30-minute drama Maryland which follows the two women, both called Mary, as they go through the police process after reporting their experience of assault.

It is based on Lucy Kirkwood’s play which she wrote in response to the number of murdered women in the past couple of years including Sarah Everard, Nicole Smallman, Bibaa Henry and Sabina Nessa.

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Maryland,Fury (ZAINAB HASAN), Fury (SARAH WOODWARD), Fury (GABRIELLA LEON), Also Mary (ZAWE ASHTON), Fury (SARAH LAM), Fury (JENNIFER JOSEPH),Sarah Weal,Sarah Weal

Maryland,Fury (ZAINAB HASAN), Fury (SARAH WOODWARD), Fury (GABRIELLA LEON), Also Mary (ZAWE ASHTON), Fury (SARAH LAM), Fury (JENNIFER JOSEPH),Sarah Weal,Sarah Weal

BBC/Century Films Ltd/Sarah Weal

Maryland,Fury (ZAINAB HASAN), Fury (SARAH WOODWARD), Fury (GABRIELLA LEON), Also Mary (ZAWE ASHTON), Fury (SARAH LAM), Fury (JENNIFER JOSEPH),Sarah Weal,Sarah Weal

During a panel discussion for the film, Ashton confirmed she and her fellow actors had felt galvanised while creating the project.

She added: “Probably the most overwhelming thing was, from an actor’s perspective, actually getting to say the truth of your existence in the world.

“There’s so many situations that you find yourself in, in this industry, where you’re being explicitly or not explicitly asked to self-abandon yourself.

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“And put your truth or politics or the reality of things aside in order to present something lukewarm and you don’t often get the chance to go to work and say things like we’re saying in this film.

“And the power of Lucy’s writing is it resonates so deeply within you that it can feel overwhelming because it can often times be the first time you as a woman or as an actor have said that truth out loud, let alone in front of people, let alone in front of a camera.

“So I think there are so many different parallels that we all felt as a cast moving through this work.”

You want to crack that glass between you being an actor and being a woman all the time and it’s often very hard but I definitely have a new intentionality around that now, for sureZawe Ashton

Ashton admitted she felt a “new level of responsibility” when taking on the project but said it made her voice some hard truths about her own personal experience.

She said: “You are always in situations as a woman where you are pretending not to know as much as you do, generally, and I think this film made me go ‘Hang on a minute, no’.

“You’ve looked down the lens of a camera and said some extremely truthful things about your experience in this world and there’s no going back from that.”

The actress added: “You want to crack that glass between you being an actor and being a woman all the time and it’s often very hard but I definitely have a new intentionality around that now, for sure.”

Kirkwood wrote the original script in two days following the murder of Ms Nessa and numerous women before her.

The piece, which she described as a “howl against the normalisation of male violence”, was first staged at the Royal Court in London in 2021.

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Maryland,Also Mary (ZAWE ASHTON), PC Eddowes (JUSTINE MITCHELL),Sarah Weal,Sarah Weal

Maryland,Also Mary (ZAWE ASHTON), PC Eddowes (JUSTINE MITCHELL),Sarah Weal,Sarah Weal

BBC/Century Films Ltd/Sarah Weal

Maryland,Also Mary (ZAWE ASHTON), PC Eddowes (JUSTINE MITCHELL),Sarah Weal,Sarah Weal

It was later adapted for the silver screen with Brian Hill and Kirkwood directing the project.

The film adaptation embraces its theatrical basis in a drive to move away from previous naturalistic style dramas which have explored the topic.

Ashton said that she thinks the naturalistic drama is still “a brilliant way” of challenging the issue but that these might be “making people even more comfortable with issues rather than jarring them out of a mentality”.

Maryland will air on July 20 at 10pm on BBC Two.


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