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'Women are at the heart of the script which was a deliberate thing... in a Celtic tribe there was gender equality, women were allowed to rule'

 

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Annabel Scholey with her husband, Northern Ireland-born Ciaran McMenamin

Annabel Scholey with her husband, Northern Ireland-born Ciaran McMenamin

Dan Wooller/REX/Shutterstock

Annabel Scholey Amena in Britannia

Annabel Scholey Amena in Britannia

Annabel (right) as Maddie in Walking On Sunshine with Hannah Arterton

Annabel (right) as Maddie in Walking On Sunshine with Hannah Arterton

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Annabel Scholey with her husband, Northern Ireland-born Ciaran McMenamin

Annabel Scholey is starring in new historical drama Britannia - and finally getting to enjoy her honeymoon to Fermanagh-born actor Ciaran McMenamin. She talks to Davina Gordon about her dreamy wedding on Lusty Beg, putting down roots in her new husband's homeland and why she loves her role as the formidable and manipulative queen-in-waiting.

Annabel Scholey ran across Enniskillen actor Ciaran McMenamin at just the right time. "He was performing at the National Theatre and I was in the audience, and I thought 'he's nice'," the Britannia actress says. "Some time later, I was moaning about my love life and my friend suggested Ciaran. I thought, 'yeah I like him... I'm a big fan of the Irish accent like so many other women'. So, we had a semi-blind date, and then we just dated, which is quite rare but nice."

Their romance went from strength to strength and the couple were married in May last year. Speaking in 2016, Ciaran spoke of his excitement at their forthcoming nuptials.

"Well, I turned 40 this year and I like where I have gotten to in myself and in my career," he said. "I have no regrets about anything in my life to date - regrets are pointless. Next year I marry an amazing woman and - touch wood - we will be blessed with little folk. I can't wait to be a dad."

When we meet, it emerges that having a family is something that Annabel is equally keen to pursue one day. "Absolutely," she enthuses. "We've not started yet, but I'd love to be a mother."

Annabel (34), from Yorkshire, and Ciaran (42) currently live in Hastings, on the southeast coast of England.

"We moved out of the city as Ciaran was going insane," she says. "There's a good train line, the house prices are lower and you're close to the sea and countryside. It's healthy. It's good to separate work from your home life."

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The striking couple visit Northern Ireland three or four times a year. "Ciaran gets very homesick and is totally in love with the place," says Annabel.

"Actually, Belfast is quite similar to Wakefield, where I'm from. It has the same vibe, it's fantastic."

Ciaran and Annabel married on a sunny day on Lusty Beg, Fermanagh. "The weather was beautiful and we all fell in love with the place," she says.

Indeed, they are hoping to buy a cottage somewhere in the beautiful Northern Ireland countryside and spend more time exploring - Annabel confesses she has a wish list of places to visit.

"I loved the Mac theatre in Belfast when Ciaran was performing in After Miss Julie, but I didn't get to see a lot of the place. I'd love to go to the Titanic Quarter and I absolutely want to go on a black cab tour - some of my bridesmaids have been on one, which is unacceptable," she laughs.

"We had dinner and cocktails in Botanic though."

Annabel says that Ciaran is steadfastly supportive of her career - and gives a straight answer when she asks for his opinion of her work.

"He has impeccable taste," she muses.

"He's a perfectionist and will tell me what he thinks about my performances. He's quite forthright and will give an honest answer.

"He's still acting but he is focusing more on writing."

While Ciaran currently has a number of projects in post-production, including the films Heretiks and Grace & Goliath, he is also writing a screenplay for his 2017 book, Skintown, which is plugged as the Enniskillen version of Trainspotting.

Annabel, meanwhile, plays formidable queen-in-waiting Amena in Britannia, a sumptuous historical period drama set in 43AD. Her co-stars include Kelly Reilly, David Morrissey, Zoe Wanamaker and Mackenzie Crook.

It's been a natural career path for Annabel, who displayed a talent for performing from an early age.

"I was told I was a very hyperactive child and a show-off," she says. "I was sent to dance class to burn off energy. I really loved dancing and singing, drama, particularly Shakespeare. My dad, a fireman, and my sister, who's a teacher, advised me to go to theatre school and so I went to the Oxford School of Drama. I guess I've always known."

Annabel's previous high-profile work includes playing Lauren Drake in Being Human, Maddie in Walking on Sunshine and Contessina de Medici in Medici: Masters of Florence.

Impressively, she didn't audition for her Britannia role. "It was a very lovely surprise," she smiles. "I've worked with Vertigo Films before, on Walking on Sunshine and Britannia's writer and co-creator Jez Butterworth - who I'm a big fan of - suggested me. It's a case of being in the right place at the right time. I got a call from my agent and was asked to read the script. I was obviously thrilled, the script was fantastic."

Britannia was filmed in Wales and Prague, which Annabel remembers as a 'beautiful, quiet city'. "We filmed in nature reservoirs not open to the public," she says. "We were in the middle of nowhere in full costumes and wigs, it was spectacular."

Speaking of her resourceful and manipulative character, Amena, Annabel says: "She's not necessarily likeable. She gets called a snake quite often. She's part of the Cantii tribe and is married to male heir, Phelan, played by Julian Rhind-Tutt. She is loyal but will do anything to achieve her own ends.

"She is very determined and manipulates from the shadows. Her other husband is warrior Lyndon, played by Stanley Weber, an alliance the druids sought in an attempt to strengthen bonds between their nations. She is very disapproving of both and spends much of her time trying to manipulate them."

In the opening episode, Amena delights in being callous, gently goading Phelan with lips curled in a wicked smile, saying: "Trust me husband, you don't know what a man is."

Does Annabel share any personality traits with Amena?

"I hope I'm not a snake," she laughs. "Like her, if I want something, I'll focus and work hard. I'm a strong and feisty woman - something my husband will agree with. But, I'm not conniving or manipulative, although I found it easy to tap into her, which is a bit disconcerting," she grins.

Annabel stars opposite Kelly Reilly, who co-starred with Vince Vaughn in True Detective and Denzel Washington in Flight.

"I saw her in After Miss Julie in second year and have been a fan ever since. We got on really well. We're allies in the Cantii tribe, she is the king's daughter, but we hate each other. Amena doesn't trust her because she has Roman blood."

Annabel says her role was physically demanding.

"I had to undergo fight training, as I fight my husband, which was great fun, although it gets tiring after doing it about a million times," she says. "I also got to do horse riding which I really enjoy. The characters are so bold, it was a savage time to be alive. It uses all of your physical energy."

Britannia is steeped in magic and mystery although Annabel wouldn't quite describe it as supernatural.

"It's not supernatural per se, it's not based on anything historical. But there is voodoo and black magic. Amena casts a couple of spells. It's a bit weird and psychedelic, there somewhat of a Sixties feel. There are warped camera angles, tricks of the mind and a nod to the underworld, which is what Jez and Tom (Butterworth, Jez's brother and co-creator and writer) wanted."

It is a story where women hold the power - and in the current climate of female actresses fighting for equal footing with their male counterparts, it's especially relevant. In a recent interview with Variety, actress Keira Knightley spoke about how important it is to create strong, layered roles for women.

It's a sentiment Annabel echoes. "It's so important. Women are at the very heart of the script which was a deliberate thing. Jez wanted the female characters to dominate the action and they are right at the heart of the story. Everything passes through them. In a Celtic tribe, there was gender equality, women were allowed to rule and it's set up in that way.

"There are five really strong women - Kelly, Zoe, Eleanor, Lianna and me. They are all intelligent, amazing characters and I think it's happening more and more for actresses. I've recently finished working on The Split which had an all-female team.

"The industry is changing. Britannia was a great project. You could fight and ride horses, not sit in the corner sipping tea Jane Austen-style."

Despite Britannia already being compared to its American neighbour on Sky Atlantic, Game of Thrones, Annabel says the shows are very different.

"It's flattering that it's being compared to Game of Thrones, but it's not trying to be. Game of Thrones is very unique, and the two are very different in tone. I hope Game of Throne fans will give it a go and fall in love with it," she adds.

Annabel is due to appear in six-part drama The Split on BBC One in the spring, which has a completely different setting to Britannia.

"It was a lovely job," she says. "It's about a family of female divorce lawyers. Nicola Walker, who I think is one of the best actresses to come out of the UK, plays my sister."

How does she feel about watching herself on screen?

"I've got better. It's a useful way to critique yourself and I can do it in a way that I don't reduce myself to rubble. It lets me see how I can improve. I'll think, 'that wasn't bad, but I can do it better', or 'oh my goodness, I look so tired, what was I doing the night before?'. I'm still learning though and I'm responsible for making myself better."

However, while she is delightful company, and willing to chat at length about her career, Annabel reveals that she is getting ready for an important trip - her honeymoon, no less - and she and Ciaran are heading off the very day after our interview.

"We thought January would be a great time to get away," she says. "I'm ready for the heat. We were both ill at Christmas."

What kind of activities will the pair get up to? "Ciaran is quite the fisherman and will be bringing along his tackle while I'll be lying down with a book," she says.

"And we love seafood, so we'll be having plenty of curries with fish."

Before she rushes off, Annabel adds excitedly: "Oh do let me know when the interview appears so I can let all my in-laws know." And, after exchanging a few more friendly niceties, she is off to prepare for a well-earned rest in the sun.

All episodes of Britannia are available on Sky Atlantic and TV streaming service NOW TV


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