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'I feel very blessed if I receive a piece like this role'

Sarah Lancashire takes on another 'rare beast' in the third and final part of Jack Thorne's blame trilogy, The Accident

Dark drama: Sarah Lancashire in The Accident
Dark drama: Sarah Lancashire in The Accident

By Gemma Dunn

Sarah Lancashire isn't into labels. Whether it's "national treasure", or "queen of gritty drama", the actress - hailed for her Bafta-winning performances in Last Tango In Halifax and Happy Valley - simply doesn't care for them.

"I just take what resonates really with me," she insists, chewing over her impressive body of work. "I don't want to be the queen of gritty drama. I don't. Gritty though it may be, these are pieces that say something about the world. That focus on the grey matter, that aren't black and white - as life is not black and white," Lancashire (55) protests.

"So, I don't actively search out these roles. I do the best of what comes along and that's really how I make my choices - and not a lot of humour comes my way."

Not that it matters. For since her breakthrough as Corrie's lovable barmaid, Raquel Watts, the Oldham-born star has found critical acclaim with hits such as Where The Heart Is, Clocking Off, Lark Rise To Candleford and, most recently, MotherFatherSon.

Her next outing certainly isn't a laughing matter, either. Lancashire will reunite with Kiri writer Jack Thorne for The Accident - a four-part drama series about a devastating explosion on the site of a large construction project in a fictional Welsh town, Glyngolau.

She will play Polly Bevan, the wife of the local politician who championed the project and the person to whom the stricken community turns following the disaster.

The third instalment of Thorne's Channel 4 "blame trilogy", the part was specifically written for Lancashire. And it was an offer that warranted an easy "yes". "It's just the piece in its totality, really," she says of its appeal.

"It's difficult to extract the character out of the scenario, so it's just the landscape of the story within that and the interaction of the characters.

"When it works, it's fantastic. I feel very blessed that I receive pieces like this."

Is that a rarity in the scripts she receives?

"The Jacks and the Sally Wainwrights are rare creatures; you're not going to find many of those around," she says. "But I guess, in the law of statistics, that's probably right.

"There's not going to be a huge number of great writers, or a huge number of great directors, that's why they're unique and great, I suppose."

It's what makes this process a satisfying one, Lancashire adds: "It's the alchemy of having these extraordinary four scripts and having the right director for the piece in Sandra Goldbacher, who just led us so brilliantly.

"And because of the nature of the piece as well, the nature of some of the scenes, it depends on an enormous amount of trust and respect within the space.

"And Sandra is a brilliant enabler; she makes the space very safe for you to work - that's really rare.

"It was so rewarding in that respect and difficult to walk away from. These experiences don't come along very often, so you don't really want to leave them behind because you think, 'Well, that's another 10 years before one of these crops up again'."

"We all went away and decompressed. It was very intense," she adds.

"And that's the happiest place to be, when you are emotionally athletic and you can really start flexing muscles that you didn't even know you had, or you'll see how far you can push it."

As for the tricky job of nailing the Welsh accent, "I did a lot of work on that!" she quips. "It was really challenging. It was awful. In fact, we started filming this in April and, just to give you an indication of how long it took me, I had my Christmas dinner speaking in a Welsh accent - six months of Welshness.

"My family is so used to it; that's the downside of living with an actor, really, that you live with their work as well. It's quite normal in my house."

Next, Lancashire will star as mother Margaret New in the forthcoming big screen adaptation of Everybody's Talking About Jamie, as well as reprising her role as much-loved headmistress Caroline when Last Tango In Halifax returns for a fourth season in 2020.

Does she reflect on her career, which has spanned more than three decades?

"Nope. I can't even remember yesterday," she answers candidly. "I haven't changed as an actor. I have evolved, probably, in the sense that I'm 35 years older than I was when I first started.

"But I think the most fortunate thing about the position that I'm in is that I'm offered better roles than I was offered 20 years ago.

"I take a break all the time. Literally, I take six, seven, eight months out, so I have massive down periods of time.

"But that's mostly just to get on with my other job - as a family person."

The Accident, Channel 4, Thursday, 9pm

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