The Woman in the Wall, a finely crafted fictional drama, emerges as a gothic thriller that delves into the enduring impact of one of Ireland’s most shocking scandals—the cruel institutions known as The Magdalene Laundries.
Lorna Brady (played by Ruth Wilson) resides in the fictional Irish hamlet of Kilkinure. One morning, she awakens to the presence of a lifeless body within her abode. Puzzled by the identity of the deceased and uncertain of her own potential involvement, Lorna grapples with intense sleepwalking episodes that trace back to her wrenching removal from her life at the age of 15, condemning her to confinement within a convent. Here, Lorna bore her daughter Agnes, who was forcibly taken away, her fate remains an enigma.
Fate casts Detective Colman Akande (Daryl McCormack) onto Lorna’s trail, pursuing a seemingly unrelated crime that has led her to the cadaver in her dwelling.
As Colman quests for a murderer and Lorna seeks her estranged daughter, their paths intertwine in unforeseen ways. Lorna’s pursuit of Agnes unearths buried memories and Kilkinure’s most sinister secrets, converging with Colman’s quest for answers they both so desperately crave.
What enigma shrouds The Woman in the Wall? Unique, evocative, and illuminating, The Woman in the Wall presents a gripping psychological and emotional detective tale, tinged with a shadowy humor. This series will soon grace the screens of BBC One and iPlayer in the UK.
The production was realized in Northern Ireland, with financial support from Northern Ireland Screen. Crafted by Joe Murtagh (known for Calm with Horses), the narrative is brought to life by Motive Pictures, an independent British production company, backed by Fifth Season.
Ruth Wilson, who embodies Lorna Brady, spoke with Bradford Zone.
Can you tell us about the premise for The Woman in The Wall and how you came to be involved in the project?
The Woman in The Wall is set in the small fictional town of Kilkinure, and it follows a woman called Lorna (played by myself) who was sent to a Mother and Baby home 25/30 years prior. And in that home, she had a baby who was taken from her. We pick up in 2016, Lorna awakens one day following an episode of sleepwalking to find the body of a dead woman in her home. She notices that she had been left a note from this mysterious woman which starts to unravel her whole backstory, including the mystery of the Mother and Baby homes and what may have happened to her child.
Lorna is unsure whether or not she is responsible for the death of this woman. As she attempts to retrace her steps and remember the events of the night before, she becomes an amateur investigator, while also being the number one suspect. This kicks off a chain of events that force the whole community in Kilkinure, to reckon with the sins of their past.
I was sent the pilot a number of years ago now and thought it had real potential. Joe Murtagh had written a script that was truly unique. I thought it was swimming in something vital, dramatising a subject matter that demands attention but through the lens of genre. And not just one genre. Crime caper, psychological/gothic horror, and dark comedy. I thought it could potentially not only educate but entertain, and thereby reach a larger audience.
Can you tell us about your character, Lorna Brady?
Lorna is a little bit of an oddball, an outsider and I felt deep affection for her immediately. On the page she kept surprising me. She starts as a mystery, probably even to herself but as the show progresses and more of her past and that of the community is revealed, you start to understand why Lorna behaves in the way she does.
She’s a survivor of a traumatic experience that was instituted, governed, and covered up by that state where she lived. She becomes a woman on a mission and throughout the course of the series, you see her gaining confidence and clarity about what she has been through and what she’s looking to find and resolve. She is odd, quirky, funny, a loner, but in some ways, she discovers that being an outsider gives you power, you have little left to lose. She learns to find support, to ask for help, the mission becomes one for the community, not just her.
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 didn’t know a great deal. I probably knew what a lot of people know, which is that they’d watched Philomena and The Magdalene Sisters. I read a bit about it, but I didn’t know the full extent and I don’t think I had read or watched enough, that the information really penetrated. After having done some research, I went out to Tuam which is where they discovered the remains of hundreds of children and babies in 2017, in the grounds of a former Mother and Baby home. I then read lots of personal oral testimonies, many books, literature, podcasts and met with Katherine O’Donnell from Justice for Magdalenes Research, who was one of the advisors on the series.
It’s only been in the past 10 years that the truth has really started coming out. It was shocking to me that the last Mother and Baby home closed in the 90s, such recent history. Our show is fictional, the characters are fictional, but the context is real and much of the material is inspired by true events. It feels important to make work that can platform the stories of these women and my hope is that people enjoy the series, but more importantly, go away and dig a bit deeper, learn a bit more.
What makes this series stand out from other similar thriller/crime dramas?
I think it’s probably the mash of tones to be honest. It’s not just a crime drama, but a gothic horror, psychological drama, and a black comedy. When I first read the scripts, it reminded me of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell Tale Heart”, – it reads like a 19th century gothic thriller but then you realise it’s contemporary, so it’s a really unusual twist on those genre pieces.
Can you tell us a little about your role as Executive Producer on this project? Why was it important for you to take on this added responsibility for this series?
When I joined the project, the creative team were predominantly male. I felt hypersensitive to the fact that this was a female story, and fundamentally the heart of the piece lies with Lorna and those ladies in Kilkinure. As an Exec I could keep an eye on that female lens and I could help widen the female creative team, with directors Harry Wootliff and Rachna Suri.
How did you find working opposite Daryl McCormack, and the rest of the cast?
Wonderful. The cast and crew across the board were phenomenal. We filmed in Northern Ireland, and I think it was one of the best crews I’ve worked with. They all knew each other because it was a very small community. For many of them, it was particularly personal as it’s their story too. So many of them were connected in that they knew someone, or knew someone who knew someone, that had either been in a Mother and Baby Home or were an adoptee or associated with this part of history in some way.
It felt like there were a lot of connections to that world and each of them brought a personal understanding of the experience and what it meant to the community. It was a joy to work with all of them, especially the women. My favourite scenes were with them because it grounded the show, it made sense of Lorna, and reminded us all of why we committed to this story.
What was it like to reunite with director Harry Wootliff after your collaboration on 2021’s True Things?
It was great, I love working with Harry. I think she’s got a really unique eye and she understands character so well. With Si Bell [Director of Photography], Harry and myself there’s a kind of symbiotic language that’s fluid, incredibly intimate and honest. She is very emotionally instinctive so I knew having her at the helm, certainly for those first two episodes, was vital because she would always go for what feels real and honest and find truth in the genre. Also, she’s a filmmaker, the way she moves the camera is not often seen on TV. Her work elevates the look of the piece.
Did you have any concerns about taking on the role of an Irish character?
Yes, of course! With any character, you want to be convincing. That’s your first and foremost, and you don’t want to offend people. But, in a way, it’s not solely an Irish story, it has happened elsewhere too. And, if you think of women being repressed and silenced, whether that’s by the church or religion or state, it becomes a bigger question. But I do have some Irish in me, and I was brought up a Catholic, went to a Catholic convent school, was an altar girl, so yes, I understand the Catholic world very, very well.
What is your hope for the series?
First and foremost, I hope people watch it, that they’re entertained by it, but then I hope that it encourages a bigger conversation and makes people delve a bit deeper, investigate that history, ask questions, and listen to these women’s stories. Only by revealing the truth of stories like this, can we ever hope to prevent it happening again.