“I’m playing one of the first women doctors,” the actress revealed to RadioTimes.com. “I’m really excited because I did history at university and I love a bit of research. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson blazed the trail in the 1870s and in the intervening decade or so a few extremely intrepid and unusual women started learning to be doctors themselves.”
Brealey – best known as timid pathologist Molly Hooper in Sherlock – will play a character based on these pioneering women: Dr Amelia Frayn runs the Obsidian Clinic in Whitechapel, caring for those who cannot look after themselves. “So I’m dressed very soberly and the other girls are all so ravishing. I’m like a little Jenny Wren. Literally, where are my pretty feathers?!”
The third run of the Victorian detective drama is currently being filmed in Ireland. It was axed by the BBC after two series but resurrected by Amazon Prime Instant Video. It will be available first via the on-demand service and will then be shown on BBC1 a few months later.
“Everyone’s just delighted that it’s got another crack of the whip,” said Brealey. “They felt that they weren’t quite done with it. I think it’s that feeling when you’ve had half the biscuit and left it somewhere in the house: you can’t quite rest until you’ve found it. So it’s like they’re all finishing off a custard cream with smiles on their faces!”
The actress admitted she’d never seen Ripper Street prior to auditioning, having been put off by negative early reviews. “I just thought: Oh god, not another show where it’s a cast of blokes and all the women are doing is getting their tits out. I couldn’t be bothered.”
“Then when I watched it, I thought: This is absolutely brilliant! I really want to do it! It’s one of the best period dramas I’ve seen because it’s a proper world. You really buy it.”
She’s also been bonding with her new co-star Matthew Macfadyen. “What a nice man. He’s so nice. Just lovely, funny and very kind. His family is from Northamptonshire, which is where I’m from, so we’ve had a Rose of the Shires bond.”
Louise Brealey can also be seen in the film Delicious, a dark romantic comedy about an obsessive dieter, which will be in selected cinemas on Monday 30 June.