Belfast Telegraph

The actress who'll play evil murderess Hazel Stewart in new TV drama

By Laura Abernethy

She's set to play the lead role in one of the most anticipated TV dramas of recent years - but the man behind the story says he hasn't even heard of her.

Genevieve O'Reilly will appear as Coleraine Sunday school teacher turned murderer Hazel Stewart, who killed two people alongside her lover Colin Howell in 1991, in the three-part ITV drama The Secret.

It is understood that dozens of actresses were tested for the role of Stewart before the Dubliner landed the role.

The drama is based on the book Let This Be Our Secret by Deric Henderson, the former Ireland editor of the Press Association.

Yesterday he told the Belfast Telegraph: "I have to say I'd never heard of her until I was told that she was playing the role of Hazel. I'm told that she casted brilliantly. She's a very inspired choice. She has a wonderful record."

The 38-year-old actress, who has appeared in Episodes, Banished and The Honourable Woman, fought off stiff competition for the role.

It was also confirmed yesterday that local actor James Nesbitt will star as Howell, the respectable dentist turned killer.

Nesbitt, who previously starred in BBC One's The Missing, will be crossing over to ITV for the three-part drama.

Mr Henderson added: "It's a fantastic cast. James Nesbitt comes from that part of the world and he's familiar with the story. He came to see me a few years ago and we talked about it. I'm delighted that he's got one of the main roles."

Let This Be Our Secret, published in 2011, tells the story of how the Ballymoney dentist and lay preacher gassed his wife Lesley and Buchanan's husband Trevor and made it look like a suicide pact.

Stewart had met Howell at their local Baptist Church in Coleraine and they started having an affair. It was only 19 years later that the truth was discovered when Howell confessed to the murder and named Stewart as his accomplice.

The story was picked up by Hat Trick Productions and filming will begin soon.

"It's an extraordinary story, certainly the most remarkable I've ever covered in a long career," Mr Henderson added.

"It's just an amazing time. Who would have believed that this would have happened? I'm thrilled to bits that they've decided to go with this drama. It's been a bit of time in the making, but we're up and running."

The former journalist will work as a consultant on the series and said he had "every confidence they will stay faithful to the book".

"Obviously, I haven't seen the final script. I've met the producer and the director and they are top film people with a great track record. The scriptwriter has spent months getting the scripts ready and I've been in contact with him.

"This is a drama series that you couldn't make up."

The Secret is written by Bafta-winning Stuart Urban and directed by Nick Murphy. It has been commissioned for ITV by director of drama Steve November and controller of drama Victoria Fea.

"The Secret is a powerful true life crime story," said Mr November. "The production team at Hat Trick led by Mark Redhead has a long-held reputation for producing quality drama focusing on human frailties and tragedy."

Mr Redhead added: "This is the story of an audacious and wicked crime. It tells us something very surprising and revealing about the dark side of human nature."

Belfast Telegraph

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