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Best Of British Biographies – Ruth Wilson

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The beauty of being the one who chooses which articles I write is, quite simply, I get to choose and I choose the people I like. I chose Danny Boyle and Christopher Nolan because I like their films. I chose Roger Allam because I love his voice. Bill Nighy is like your favourite uncle. Miriam Margolyes is deliciously naughty. There are more reasons than just being brilliant in your chosen field…although that helps! When I decide to write about someone it is usually because I’ve seen a lot of their work and developed a kind of fascination about them. Very often it will be because I have developed an attraction for that person. 

The funny thing is that attraction can come from a variety of sources. Looks is an obvious source. So are talent, wit, humour, intelligence, and any number of other attributes. Some have a more indefinable quality which is not immediately obvious. They can be desperately attractive but not traditionally beautiful. One actor who I find totally mesmerising is Ruth Wilson. She has a strange kind of beauty which I first noticed when she was playing the deliciously psychotic Alice Morgan in the TV series Luther. In one scene she can be staggeringly beautiful and in the next, startlingly frightening.

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In The Beginning…

Ruth Wilson MBE was born in January 1982 in the Southern English county of Surrey. I’m guessing that it was a comfortable upbringing as her father was an investment banker and I haven’t heard of many of them being hard up. Her mother worked as a probation officer which probably was as well rewarded financially but had other, more sociably enhanced, compensations. She was also the youngest and only girl out of four siblings. How much having three brothers adds to the family budget I’m not sure but I’m guessing they aren’t cheap.

School Days

Ruth went to Catholic Girls School and a VIth Form College. Whether it was because there wasn’t appropriate “A” Level provision at the school or the fact that she was modelling at age sixteen that caused her to move to the college I don’t know. All I do know is that she went of to Nottingham University and studied History. While there she got involved with some student productions at Nottingham New Theatre; the New Theatre is part funded by the Student Union and located on the campus. 

2003 – Time Commanders

It was while at Nottingham University that Ms Wilson first appeared on TV. She was a contestant on a TV game show called Time Commanders.  In this a group of four people split into two groups of two and refought an historical battle using their wits and some war gaming software. On the 9th October 2003 she appeared with three fellow former students to refight the battle of Pharsalus. Her history degree wasn’t much use, though, as it was modern history and not combat based.

TV Debut…s

After graduating from Nottingham in 2003, Ruth let the acting bug take her off to the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. She graduated from LAMDA in 2005 and, just a year later she was on our TV screens not once but twice. Her first outing was in a comedy series called Suburban Shootout in which she appeared as Tom Hiddleston’s love interest. The series was commissioned by Channel 5 and so didn’t get that big of an audience.

2006 – Jane Eyre

Her dramatic debut was in the title role of the BBC mini series Jane Eyre. Given that this series was made by Auntie Beeb, people actually got to see it. Not only did they get to see it but they seemed to quite enjoy it. And Ruth was a more than adequate foil for Toby Stephens’ Mr Rochester despite him coming in after a stint as a Bond Baddy! Gustav Graves in Die Another Day, to save you looking it up. Talk about hitting the ground running; she was nominated for BAFTA award as Best Actress for her first dramatic role. 

Stage, Screen, Radio

Following that breakthrough role Ruth started popping up in all manner of places; stage, cinema, TV, and radio. She was in an episode of Agatha Christie’s Marple; the British TV one with Geraldine McEwan as Miss Marple.  She appeared in a BBC/HBO co-production Capturing Mary alongside David Walliams. In this she plays young Mary where grown up Mary is Maggie Smith. There was also a radio version of The Mayor Of Casterbridge on BBC Radio 4 where she played Elizabeth-Jane. 

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2006 – Suburban Shootout with Tom Hiddleston

It was 2009 that saw the remake of the 1967 classic The Prisoner. I remember the original series fondly. Those big white balloons scared the living crap out of me! I can’t pretend that I understood what was going on. However, I’ve rewatched it since and got a better idea of what it was all about. However, it still has its mysteries. I have been and visited Portmerion, the setting for The Village. It still looks as delightfully strange in real life as it was on the screen. But I won’t waste any more time talking about that version.

Remake My Day

The remake met with mixed reviews. I often think that, sometimes, it is like my own father who, in situations like this, would say “it’s not as good as the original”. But then we’d have to, gently, point out to him “Dad, you haven’t seen the new one…” There were good reviews though. Sam Wallaston, writing for The Guardian, described it as “a triumph with something of The Truman Show about it” and filled with “a tension and a claustrophobia that gnaw away at you, making you look at your own psyche.”

2009 – The Prisoner

It makes interesting viewing to watch the original and the remake alternately! Obviously the iffy odd years between the two are noticeable but there are other differences. The sixties Number 6 (Patrick McGoohan) was a former spy whereas the new one (Jim Caviezel) worked for a private security firm. In the sixties Number 2 eighteen actors played the part across the seventeen episodes. No explanation was ever given. In the remake it is Ian McKellen throughout. In the original we are located on the Welsh coast in a village of eccentric architecture, the remake is in the middle of the desert in Namibia

The Welsh Bit Of Namibia

As well as Number 6 and Number 2 there was a variety of other ‘residents’. None were named, some appeared once, others popped in a couple of times. In the new version we have a few regulars. One of these is Number 313 or Sarah played by, of course, Ruth Wilson! Again she is wonderful. Who else would you want to be a distant, disconnected, doctor in this dystopian version of Hotel California. You can check out but you can never leave! Tilda Swinton would be my next guess!

2010 – Luther with Idris Elba

But 2009 wasn’t just The Prisoner.  There was another TV series called Small Island alongside Naomie Harris, David Oyelowo, and Benedict Cumberbatch. There were two radio plays; The Promise on BBC Radio 3 and The Lady Of The Camellias on BBC Radio 4. As if all that wasn’t enough, there was also a production of A Streetcar Named Desire at the Donmar Warehouse. Not one to take a back seat, Ruth was Stella. In 2010 we had another radio play, Spitfire! on BBC Radio 4, and Through A Glass Darkly on stage at the Almeida Theatre. But the big thing, for me, was the aforementioned Luther.

Psycho Killer Qu’est-ce que c’est?

The Luther in question is Detective Chief Inspector John Luther played by Idris Elba. It is a psychological crime thriller and a very good one! It has run for five seasons and there is a film out later this month (February 2023).  Luther is a driven, to the point of obsession, with the cases he works. He isn’t the stereotypical, alcoholic, divorced, genius struggling with his demons. He is separated, prone to violent outbursts, and amazingly insightful.  Despite this, it doesn’t feel the same as other intense police procedural dramas.

2012 – Saving Mr Banks with Colin Farrell

The whole thing starts off with the investigation of a double murder…a triple if you count the dog! A daughter has just come back to her parents house after nipping out to buy some bread and milk to find them both, and the dog, shot dead. There is s hysterical 999 call and the police, including Luther, come to investigate the scene. Luther checks the scene, interviews the daughter, and comes to the conclusion that Alice Morgan is a genius, a former child prodigy, and a psychopath!

An Affair To Forget?

Unusually for most serious crime dramas like Luther, the arch villain doesn’t end up getting arrested in the last five minutes. Instead Alice Morgan becomes a recurring character throughout the five series. Well…she had a much reduced presence in series three and missed series four altogether due to clashes with other projects that she was working on. Despite having died a number of times I still have hopes of seeing Alice in the upcoming film version Luther: The Fallen Sun. One of the projects that kept Ruth away from Luther was The Affair; an American programme that had been produced by Showtime. 

2014 – The Affair

Thanks to the narrative approach used The Affair had been described as “the Rashomon of relationship dramas”. Admittedly that was by the show’s creator. Ruth had a leading role in The Affair but decided to walk away from it following her discomfort with the increasing amounts of nudity involved. She was particularly concerned by the coercive methods used by one of the showrunners and there must have been some truth as there were quite a few cast departures ahead of the fifth and final season.

Back, Treading The Boards

Incidentally, while all this was bouncing around Ruth managed to fit in a stint on the stage. She appeared as the lead in a Royal National Theatre production of Hedda Gabler. This was a new version, with an updated script by Patrick Marber and presented in the Lyttelton Theatre. One of the few bonuses of the pandemic lockdown was that I treated myself to a subscription to the National Theatre At Home service and Hedda Gabler was one of the many treats on offer.

2017 – Hedda Gabler

It was in 2018 that, possibly, one of the strangest roles Ruth Wilson has ever had to play came along. It was the part of Alison Wilson in the TV mini series Mrs Wilson. The bit that may seem strange is that Alison Wilson was Ruth Wilson’s real life grandmother! So what was so special about Ruth’s gran that merited three, hour long, prime time slots in the schedule? Actually, with all due respect to the Mrs Wilson portrayed, it was more to do with Ruth’s granddad, Alexander Wilson. 

Is That You Grandma?

Alexander was a novelist and former MI6 officer and Alison thought that they had a lovely, settled life together. They’d been married for over twenty years and had two sons. Her happy home was shattered when, in 1963, Alec Wilson had an unexpected heart attack and died suddenly. Now this sort of thing is likely to shatter anybody. What made matters much, much worse was that, thanks to the intricacies of his life in the world of espionage, Alison was not the only Mrs Wilson! If you get the chance, watch it. Not only for another Ruth Wilson spellbinding performance but for a genuine “surely they must have made this up” story!

2018 – Mrs Wilson

If I may be allowed a brief aside…what is it about Daniel Craig? Don’t get me wrong, I think he is a brilliant actor. I’ve gone on record as saying I think he is the best Bond by miles. But, and I’m guessing for reasons beyond his control, he has been in cinematic versions of what should have been smash hits but just fizzled out. For instance, the Stieg Larsson Millennium trilogy. That book series was everywhere and Swedish language versions were produced and are, to my mind, highly entertaining.

Craig, Daniel Craig

Inevitably an English language version hits the pipeline. Daniel Craig took over from Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace was replaced by Rooney Mara. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was  also an excellent film and plans were being drawn up for the next two films in the series to be adapted. However, they just, as I said, fizzled out and the series was rebooted with Clare Foy as Lisbeth Salander and Sverrir Gudnason as Mikael Blomkvist in The Girl In The Spider’s Web, one of the further novels in the series being written by David Lagercrantz.

2019 – His Dark Materials

Then we come to another phenomenally successful book series; His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. As with a lot of books labelled “Young Adult” there is plenty of thought provoking matter for adults of all ages with topics ranging from witches, magic, and armoured polar bears to physics, philosophy, and theology. The original trilogy started with The Golden Compass and had Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman as Lord Asriel and Marisa Coulter, the parents of Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards). Far from being the start of a new fantasy franchise on a par with Tolkien, The Golden Compass did poorly and the sequels were dropped.

Her Dark Materials

A decade or so later and a TV version is planned. This time James McAvoy was Lord Asriel and Dafne Keen was Lyra. Obviously, for the purposes of this article, Mrs Coulter was played, with her trademark mix of beauty and psychopathy, by Ruth Wilson. I’ll let Daniel Craig off the hook now. Partly thanks to his sterling service as James Bond but also the work he’s doing as Benoit Blanc in the wonderful Knives Out mystery films. Besides, The Golden Compass was the reason George RR Martin wanted Game Of Thrones to be a TV series rather than a film! His Dark Materials is another opportunity for Ruth Wilson to do what, for me, she does best. 

2021 – True Things with Tom Burke

She is cold and calculating, brilliant and brutal. She oozes sensuality and power. I worry what this says about my taste in women that I find her so fascinating and attractive. My first introduction to her was as Alice Morgan in Luther. The latest is as Mrs Coulter in His Dark Materials. There have been dozens of characters in between them. But they all have a mesmeric beauty that I am helpless to resist. If I were fortunate enough to meet her I’m sure she’d be the bubbly and delightful person she was in Time Commanders rather than the deadly and dangerous person she can be elsewhere. The truth is that I’d jump at the chance…whoever turns up!

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