There’s a guaranteed fan base for Kate Jarman’s first starring role as feisty nurse Bethan, who is all set to fall for the boss’s son, Dr Andrew John, when he joins staff at The Graig Infirmary in Thirties South Wales in the bittersweet period love story Hearts Of Gold, writes Jenny Walford.
For Kate’s aunts and cousins have long been avid readers of the Hearts Of Gold series of books by Catrin Collier, on which the two-part drama is based. Although Kate – whose last network TV role was as sexy, man-stealing teenager Mel in the Bafta-nominated Nice Girl – may not yet be a familiar face to viewers, Catrin Collier readers have already spotted her picture on the cover of the new Hearts Of Gold book, much to Kate’s embarrassment, in bookshops. Ethan is as far away from the predatory Mel as it’s possible to be. A studious, sensible, responsible girl, whose nursing job is the only thing keeping the Powell family fed now that dad Evan (David Troughton) is on short time, Bethan has her eyes wide open when she embarks on a relationship with Andrew, whose well-to do folks see her solely as a distraction until Andrew settles down with someone of his own class. However, when Andrew is played by Holby City heart-throb Jeremy Sheffield, who can blame her for falling for a man who even her own family think is well out of her league?
Bethan and Andrew fight against the constraints of their respective social status to stay together, but the struggle may yet prove too much. Although initially daunted by the size of the role, Kate says she loved playing Bethan. “She’s really feisty, really clever and has lots of energy. She knows her place in society and it frightens her that she doesn’t feel like she’s supposed to, to fit into that society.”
Even so, Bethan does her best to keep the peace in the household like a dutiful daughter. “It was a sign of the times – she didn’t live in a world where parents and children tried to be friends, and where it was okay to be outspoken. I mean, you can divorce your parents these days! Then, you had to hide your feelings, and she does because she feels she’s unwanted by her mother and can only get comfort from her father.”
However, comfort was something Kate certainly didn’t get from some of her Thirties costumes.” The nurse’s uniform was really stiff – it was all starched and you couldn’t breathe. I don’t know how they used to cope. I spent a lot of time watching tapes – silent movies of nurses in the Thirties – and they look as though they couldn’t even sit down. But everything had to be just so then –Siobhan Flynn (who plays Laura Ronconi) and I spent ages practising the ‘hospital corners’ on our beds.”
For Sheffield, the role was the biggest he took on during his six-month break from Holby, before returning to tackle Alex Adams with Parkinson’s Disease.” Andrew is an interesting character, quite enigmatic. He is really ahead of his time and thinks in a liberal way,” says Jeremy. “In a way, it’s quite difficult to play him because he could easily come across as a cad because of the way he acts, and I hope that he doesn’t, because he is forced into some of the situations where that could be levelled against him.”
For Jeremy, it is his third medical role – he first played a medic in The Governor, set in a prison, then came his most famous part as surgeon Alex Adams.” I’m probably destined to play middle-class professionals for ever,” he says.” Not that I’m complaining. I’d love to play a Butch Cockney criminal or rough-and-ready Northerner but, after all, a middle-class Home Counties bloke is what I am.”
As Dr Andrew John, serving a poor mining community, he abandons modern medical practices for a pre-NHS era in which matron ruled the roost and nurses weren’t allowed to be married. “I think Alex (Adams) would have found working conditions excessively formal and naive at The Graig,” says Jeremy. “Alex finds Holby practices too hierarchical and struggles with the formality of being a heart surgeon; he certainly would have found the regime a problem, and he would have suffered. But that formality is what Andrew knows. The only time he questions it is because of Bethan. “Andrew comes from an educated conservative background and doesn’t fit the mould; his struggle, like Bethan’s, is between what is predestined – what’s expected of him by his social class and his family – and what his open mind and liberal thinking make him actually feel. ” Both of them are really modern characters in their thinking and their sensibilities. He meets this girl who eclipses most people of his world, who challenges him intellectually and emotionally, which, for him, is unusual. First of all, she is attractive, but he has had many attractive liaisons before. But what singles her out from the crowd is that she has a certain strength that challenges him, and this is what he falls in love with. “Then his problem is whether he is able, given his position in life, because of all the social restrictions forced upon him, to continue with this romance and take it all the way,” adds Jeremy.” And under huge amounts of pressure he comes to consider that it’s not possible … but, after all, it is a romance.” Filming on location in the South Wales valleys, including Pontypridd where author Catrin Collier grew up was an experience for all. If filming went on for more than a day in one location, Kate remembers, then the following morning hordes of Holby fans would be in position, camping out for a glimpse of Jeremy in his immaculate Thirties duds, all long coats, wide trousers and slicked down hair.
But there was one area in which Thirties Wales was no different from today – the strong opinions of miners about the rights and wrongs of strikes, picket lines and blacklegs. That stood out particularly for David Troughton, who plays Bethan’s father, Evan, when they filmed the strike scenes at Big Pit, a colliery turned visitor attraction in the South Wales valleys, where the tour guides are former miners.” Feelings do run deep – look at the miners’ strike in the Eighties,” Troughton says.” We met some real miners at Big Pit and they still talk about the blacklegs. They really hated them, and they were just cast out of society. You can still see the passion in their faces when the former miners talk about it, and that is something they really instilled in us.”