The Gothic thriller, “The Woman in the Wall,” is a meticulously crafted fictional drama series that delves into the legacy of one of Ireland’s most shocking scandals – the heart-wrenching institutions known as The Magdalene Laundries.
Set in the small fictional Irish town of Kilkinure, the narrative follows Lorna Brady (portrayed by Ruth Wilson), who awakens one morning to discover a lifeless body within her abode. Lorna is perplexed, as she has no knowledge of the deceased woman’s identity or whether she bears any responsibility. Unbeknownst to many, Lorna has been plagued by severe bouts of sleepwalking since her tragic removal from her life at the age of 15, when she was confined to a convent. It was there that she gave birth to her daughter Agnes, who was ruthlessly torn away from her, and Agnes’s destiny remains a mystery to Lorna.
Lorna’s plight intensifies as Detective Colman Akande (played by Daryl McCormack) becomes entwined in her story, investigating a seemingly unrelated crime to the cadaver found in her residence.
As Colman doggedly searches for a murderer and Lorna fervently hunts for her estranged daughter, their paths unexpectedly intersect in ways neither of them could have foreseen. Lorna’s quest for Agnes propels her deep into her personal history and unearths the darkest secrets of Kilkinure. In their respective pursuits, both Lorna and Colman seek answers that are paramount to their well-being.
What unfolds as the enigma of “The Woman in the Wall” is distinct, evocative, and enlightening. This psychological and emotionally charged detective story is infused with macabre humour, soon to grace the screens of BBC One and iPlayer in the UK.
Filmed on location in Northern Ireland with financial support from Northern Ireland Screen, the series was conceived and written by Joe Murtagh, known for his work on “Calm with Horses.” It is produced by the esteemed British independent production company Motive Pictures, with support from Fifth Season.
The six-part series is set to debut on Sunday 27th August on BBC One.
Daryl McCormack spoke to Bradford Zone.
Can you tell us about the premise of The Woman In The Wall?
The Woman in the Wall follows two survivors from fictional Mother and Baby Homes in Ireland, who have been separately impacted. The story begins after the murder of a priest that my character knew from his childhood, it brings these two people together, the young detective who’s trying to solve the case played by myself, and a prime suspect who was sent to a Mother and Baby Home in the mid- eighties played by Ruth Wilson. They both kind of have similar wounds from this system, and it’s about them going on to really tackle something that’s a lot bigger than just the initial murder case.
Please tell us about your character, Colman Akande?
Colman is a detective. He is in his early 30s and is an adopted young man who came out of the Mother and Baby Home within our fictional town of Kilkinure so he’s never known the true identity of his mother. He is very bullheaded, kind of stubborn, but you can sense that it is his only way to survive.
He’s an interesting character and hides a lot on the surface, he is almost a victim of the type of masculinity that almost hurts him. He struggles to really bear himself to those around him. He’s met with a lot of his own demons and paths that he doesn’t want to really face but this investigative case that he is working on forces him to do so. You can sense the wounds and trauma that he hasn’t yet dealt with and has to then face throughout the course of the series.
Colman is transferred from Dublin to the fictional Irish town of Kilkinure – a seemingly close-knit community, which up until the events of the series, remains relatively quiet. Tell us about this journey for Colman, and what his relationships are like with Gardai and people living in the town?
I think Colman is angry at what appears to him to be small mindedness on behalf of the local Gardai. I think there can be an Irish tendency to sometimes sweep things under the rug in fear of hurting people or in fear of disrupting the peace. And he’s partnered with a detective called Massey who is very happy to just move things along quite quickly. So, there is a dissonance there between the two of them. They operate in very different ways. He has no real allegiance or obligation to appease the local community, so he comes in becomes quite frustrated quite quickly, which I think adds to the kind of comedy of the two. They’re two very different people which makes for more of an obstacle for his investigation.
Though totally fictional the series is inspired by Ireland’s horrific history with the Magdalene Laundries and Mother & Baby Homes. How much did you know about these real-life events before taking on the role?
I’ve known about the Magdalene Laundries for quite some time. I remember watching The Magdalene Sisters movie when I was maybe 14 or 15. And through kind of just growing up in Ireland, it would have been talked about every once in a while. So I knew of it for the most part, but I obviously did a much deeper dive into the history once I started prepping for this role. I was more focusing on the children that came out of the Mother and Baby Homes, because that’s where Colman was coming from. It was difficult. Obviously, there’s a lot of pain and a lot of shame, which is part of the Catholic institution. So it was necessary, but also difficult to re-expose myself to the truth of what happened.
In the process of solving a murder in the town of Kilkinure, Colman makes a massive personal discovery about himself. How does his past trauma affect the decisions he makes throughout the series?
What I really enjoyed about playing Colman was that he is really trying to keep a lid on himself, because it’s the most efficient way he can get through the case. And as he meets with truths about both the Mother and Baby Homes and the murdered priest, he is being provoked by his own past – a dark past that he hasn’t really decided to look at.
So, he really becomes a lot more rash and emotionally driven, which was obviously great fun to play, because he becomes slightly unhinged in that in that regard. He cannot go back and not be involved with the case, so when these emotions come up for him, it only forces him to try and go through it as quickly as possible. And that causes him to go to all sorts of places.
Why do you think it’s important to tell this story to audiences today?
I think it’s important to cover anything that hasn’t gotten its fair share of exposure, particularly when it’s left a wound for some people in the country. I think the great thing about art and storytelling is that it gives another chance for people to hear and learn about past events, whilst in the frame of a fictional recreation. And I hope in doing that you give both the survivors, and the people involved a chance to hopefully salvage some recognition and some empathy, but also some justice. When we were making the show, everyone involved from the writers to the actors, and the directors, were aware that this is a sensitive topic, so we just tried to really pour ourselves into the show as much as we could for the people affected. So, the hope is that it something for them and that our efforts come across.
The series examines tragedy in Ireland’s history, while also telling a compelling whodunit crime drama. Can you talk about how the two elements work side by side, and how you found that as an actor?
I think that’s a great question. We’re not making a documentary, we’re making a fictional drama, and there is some sort of creative licence in there with regards to how that is expressed. For those involved in the series, there was a juggling act which was to really have respect to the truth of the show, but at the same time, as an actor be open to creatively where the show went and how it expressed itself.. So, it is an element of I guess, trusting that you’re respectful of the history and then letting that go and trusting the process of how the show is being made. And trusting also how it’s going to be received, hoping that people will see that you have good intent.
What was it like returning to Ireland to take this role?
I love coming home to shoot and I love working with Irish crews. I think we have some of the best crews in the world. This was my third time shooting in Belfast – I’d previously worked on a film called Pixie and some of Bad Sisters in Belfast too, so to be back there felt good because I knew the city. There is also something nice about telling an Irish story in the country.
What makes this series stand out from other similar thrillers and crime dramas?
I think it’s really to do with the way the show dances between dark comedy and horror and thriller – there are so many genres working together, which makes it feel really new. Also, in the way Joe has written in the show and how visual it is, will be exciting for audiences. A lot of time when you have a show or material that is inspired by historical events, it can be very limited in terms of how it’s expressed, almost as if it’s been shot documentary-style. But I think this show really takes licence to take risks in how it expresses itself, and I think that will be something that people haven’t seen much in this genre and that opens it to a wide audience.
How did you find working opposite Ruth Wilson, and the rest of the cast?
I’ve always wanted to work with Ruth. I remember when I first saw her in Luther, I just thought she was incredible, so from that moment that I really wanted to work with her. I didn’t mention that to her at all though, I was kind of shy, so I thought befriend her first and then let her know that I’m actually a massive fan! But she’s incredible and so unpredictable to work with as an actor as well.
I think there’s a frequency that she operates from that is really riveting. It was a joy. And working with Simon Delaney who plays my fellow detective, Massey, was an absolute treat. He’s a fantastic actor, and obviously known more for his comedy, but I was delighted that he has such a great role in this as well, one that really shows some depth. There’s such a great cast of Irish legends in this in this show that turn a brilliant performance.
What is your hope for the series?
Well, my hope is that that it is received well, and that hopefully it might bring up some more discussion, for the survivors and people involved. And then on top of that, I hope that audiences get a show that is creatively fulfilling as well. It’s a weird thing to hope for, because it’s based on true events, but I just want the survivors to feel like they’re being represented well. I really do think it’s going to be an exciting show, so I hope that they enjoy it.