'We need to start depicting women properly on the TV and in films'
Murder, kidnap and treachery are all on the cards as ambitious drama Jamestown returns to Sky One, reports Gemma Dunn
She plays a strong, dynamic woman in Sky One hit Jamestown - and Sophie Rundle wouldn't have it any other way. The self-confessed "feminist actress" says her character Alice is just the type of woman people want to see on TV. "It's indicative of an audience's desire to see female-led dramas, fleshed out female protagonists, and this is part of that movement," she adds.
"That's something I've been conscious of and want to make true in all jobs I do. It's important we have women at the front and centre."
Ever since graduating from RADA in 2011, Rundle has made a beeline for "fully fleshed out, multi-faceted parts", unafraid to turn down those that don't meet her criteria.
The 29-year-old has held her own as the hardy Ada Shelby in Peaky Blinder, caused waves as a skilled codebreaker in wartime hit The Bletchley Circle and starred opposite Friends star Matt Le Blanc in Episodes.
Now, the British actress is back to reprise her role in the second season of Jamestown.
Bigger, better, and bolder than ever, the corset drama - direct from the makers of Downton Abbey - returns to 17th century Virginia to chart the early days of the first British settlers as they establish their place in the New World.
But while the tobacco plantations are starting to provide the wealth they promised and trade booms, the status quo is soon to be disrupted by births, deaths and broken marriages.
For one, former farm girl Alice - who suffered a horrific rape ordeal at the hands of Henry (Max Beesley) in the first run and has since married his brother Silas (Stuart Martin) - has given birth.
"That's the reason the women were all brought over here, to make future bloodlines," says Rundle, whose character made the journey of a lifetime across the ocean, from England to America, in the first series.
"She's the first to achieve that, so she symbolises the future of Jamestown and that's a very isolating position to be put in. On a human level, I imagine it must be a terrifying thing to have no one to ask, 'Am I doing this right? Can you help me with this?'
"Everyone wants a piece of the baby, considers it their property and wants ownership of it. She's exhausted, like most new mums, but she's really on her own."
Perhaps not the happy ever after she had dreamed of, then. But has Alice's fear of Henry abated?
"It's still very much there and it was very important to me that that doesn't go away, because it's a brutal, primal violation that we saw in episode one and not something you should minimise, or trivialise," she says.
"She was always very strong, but now she's a new mother, she has this ferocity and this primal need to protect her family."
On the public response to the harrowing scenes of abuse, she adds: "People were really shocked by it. It came at a really shocking point in the first series, before the first advertising break.
"We wanted it to be realistic in the sense that it was scrappy and messy and it's everything you think it would be. That's what you anticipate - the violence against women going into this very male-dominated environment that's just fuelled with testosterone.
"But when you see it, it leaves a bad taste in everyone's mouth. Going forward, we're not going to keep recycling that and perpetuating that gratuitous constant thing, but it's important you don't forget about it."
Aside from honing such powerful scenes for a modern-day audience, Rundle had to maintain focus while juggling filming with that of hedonistic hit Peaky Blinders too.
"I was doing them both at the same time for a while, which was quite hard going back and forth and remembering who was who," she recalls.
"You don't want Ada Shelby in the Jamestown settlement - she would destroy them all.
"But it's a nice contrast to play Alice, who is this gentle, beautifully pure-hearted domestic woman and then Ada Shelby, who's guns blazing, fur coat and stuff.
"It's the reason I love doing TV - revisiting stories and characters and the length of the story arcs.
"There's a sense of familiarity there that's really appealing. They're like a family and these guys are, too."
Next, Rundle will star in Bodyguard - a contemporary thriller from the creators of Line of Duty, led by Richard Madden and Keeley Hawes.
It's an exciting time to be in the industry, she says, and for women in particular," she says. "Generationally, there's a shift and sense of unity. 'Enough is enough' is the sense, but not just for women.
"It's important it's not just our prerogative to spearhead this movement if all of us feel this way. This isn't just our battle. All the men I work with, it's important to them as well. It's not a divisive movement.
"If we don't start representing women properly on screen now, we're never going to change our opinion of them as a society. That's what this is taking steps towards."
Jamestown, Sky One, Friday, 9pm