Criminally Underappreciated British Actresses: Keeley Hawes.

It seems these days that British male actors are poised to take over the world by first conquering America. Let’s consider some of the names we now know from American movies and TV: Daniel Craig, Benedict Cumberbatch, Idris Elba, Tom Hardy, Dominic West, to name just a few.

So color me annoyed that a number of great British actresses have put together unbelievably long and high-quality careers without ever making a splash here in America, where we tend to like our actresses blond and under the age of 30. And the first such British actress I’d like to discuss is Keeley Hawes.

First, a consideration of things in which I have seen Ms. Hawes:

Spooks* (or, as it was titled for the US market: MI-5)

Of late I have been finding that I weary just a bit of the massive amounts of violence on all television. But when I first watched “Spooks,” I was younger and a bit more bloodthirsty (or just less tired of bloodthirsty entertainment), I just absolutely loved it. For one thing, it looked completely different, smoother, and yet more complex, than anything American TV had to offer. (Although American shows on cable and even on the networks have been pushing the envelope more of late, most of our programs now and when “Spooks” was first airing in the UK are not really all that narratively complex.) For another, although the show is a spy drama and there were guns and bombs and violence involved, there was still a lot fewer just plain old gun shootings than you can find in almost all American shows. Even a show like “Mike and Molly” shows Mike, the policeman, walking around every shift with his gun on; cops don’t tend to do that in the UK.

“Spooks” was also interesting (to me, anyway) because, unlike James Bond, the focus was not on international terrorism and locales; MI-5 is the agency that deals with domestic (in the UK) security. I’m always more interested in defense than I am in offense.

And then there were the characters, Keeley Hawes among them. In the first few seasons of Spooks the main triumvirate of characters was Tom (Matthew Macfadyen, who, trivia alert, is married to Keeley Hawes), Zoe (Hawes), and Danny (David Oyelowo). The three shared an interesting friendship and showcased different aspects of their personalities when dealing with each other: Zoe and Danny were at the same points in their careers and were friends; both were friends with but also subordinate to Tom; Tom was fond of both of them but also demanding as a supervisor; and they all had awe for Harry Pearce, their enigmatic boss. Hawes as Zoe in particular did a great job showcasing the scripts’ focus on how hard it was to be an intelligence agent but still have friends or love interests outside of the service. Arguably, the only thing more complicated was having relationships INSIDE the service.

If you’ve never seen anything with Keeley Hawes in it, start here.

Under the Greenwood Tree

And now for something completely different!

Under the Greenwood Tree is a film adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s slim classic novel of the same title. And it’s awesome; perhaps in my top 5 Brit TV literary adaptations of all time. The story is simple: Local girl Fancy Day** leaves her small town to get an education, then returns home to take care of her aging father. So far so simple, until not one, not two, but THREE suitors make their intentions known. Who will Fancy choose? The local rich but older Farmer Shinar? The somewhat uptight but worldly and on the rise Parson Maybold? Or the poorish but ambitious (and let’s just say it: so damn fine) strapping young local carrier Dick Dewy?***

I won’t tell you who she picks. But I will say her performance in this perhaps even outshines her more critically lauded work on Spooks; she’s by turns haughty, flirty, genuine, high-strung, and kind. It’s a great star turn.

Line of Duty

Just recently I started watching the police drama Line of Duty, which turned out to be a compelling if painful drama to watch (come on, people, especially if you’re police officers, MAKE BETTER CHOICES) with another strong female lead in the person of Vicky McClure (as DCI Kate Fleming). But imagine my surprise (and pleasure) when Hawes showed up in the second season, as DI Lindsay Denton. And Lindsay Denton is certainly a role to play: she’s involved in the murder of a protected witness, but the questions the anti-corruption police unit (we would know them as internal affairs officers) want answered include, was she IN on the murder? Did she know it was coming? Or was she an innocent bystander that is about to be convicted of something she didn’t do?

So many AWESOME Keeley Hawes roles. So little time. Pop back round on Thursday and we’ll cover her career some more.

*Oh, my God, I’m starting to think in British. I know full well I am American and normally I do think of this show as “MI-5,” and that’s fine. But today, without even thinking about it, I typed “Spooks” first. Does this make me bilingual?

**God how I want this name. How could you be anything other than a total dynamo with a name like Fancy Day?

***Full props to good old Thomas Hardy for perhaps the best two names in classic British literature ever. What else do you expect from the man who gave us “Tess of the D’urbervilles” and “Eustacia Vye”?

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