Julie Walters: why National Treasure isn’t about Jimmy Savile

She plays the wife of a man accused of sex abuse in Channel 4's new drama – will she stand by him?

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Julie Walters has been doing very well out of Channel 4 recently. Two series playing scene-stealing matriarch Cynthia Coffin in Indian Summers, now followed by a devastating turn as Marie Finchley in National Treasure — wife of the accused entertainer (played by Robbie Coltrane) and mother of their addict daughter (played by Andrea Riseborough). The parts just seem to be getting meatier and meatier, says Julie Walters with a shrug.

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“I’m really interested whenever a woman stands by her husband in public life or public office when something’s happened — like this or even just an affair,” she explains. “That’s what this is about really — faith and doubt and trust and the devastation something like this causes to everyone involved, from the victims to the family.”

Her character, Marie, is a fervent Catholic, “and I was brought up a Catholic. So she does believe in the sanctity of marriage and I found her faith with a big ‘F’ and with a small ‘f’ —
in God and in him — to be the biggest thing. She knows he’s been unfaithful before but 
I suppose she’s believed in him.”

Did she refer to any of the high-profile sex scandals — from the Catholic church to Jimmy Savile — when working on this? “Not really, because this is a piece of fiction,” she waves a dismissive hand. “If you start bringing 
all that in, you’re coming at it the 
wrong way. It’s not about those
 cases — it’s about the human stuff and how they relate to one another and how they deal with it. I only know what I saw flashed on the news, and I didn’t really read about them at the time, any of the things that have happened.”

She’s at the court 
for the extended trial sequence that takes up much of the final episode. “Most of what I’m doing is sitting about and looking like I’m paying attention,” she grins. “Most of my scenes happened miles away — in the enormous house we used in Berkshire. Her domain is this extraordinary modern kitchen ten times as big as this room,” she stretches her arms out, trying to reach across the clerks’ room just beside Bradford’s old court. “It made me feel very impoverished. My kitchen’s covered in mud, hairs from the dog and the cat — who died recently, my poor old cat.” She sighs.

The kitchen provided the backdrop for her favourite scenes with Coltrane. Although they were both in the regular cast of Harry Potter, this is the first time she’s really acted with him.

“We didn’t have any scenes together in Potter,” she confesses. “We really got to know each other doing all the promo work and the premieres. Robbie actually couldn’t be in scenes with anybody. Hagrid was so big, it all had to be done with blue screen. We did have dinner together during filming National Treasure —
 not often, because I’m usually lying down in my room when I’m not working. It’s exhausting stuff and there aren’t a lot of gags.”

She leans forward conspiratorially. “I’d still love to do some great comedy. If anyone’s asking, let them know.”

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National Treasure begins tonight at 9pm on Channel 4