Meet the cast of Decline and Fall

Jack Whitehall, David Suchet and Eva Longoria star in Evelyn Waugh's biting but hilarious satire about an unfortunate Oxford student turned hapless teacher

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Almost 90 years after he wrote it, Evelyn Waugh’s first published novel is finally getting the BBC1 drama treatment. The three-part adaptation of Decline and Fall starts on Friday 31st March with an all-star cast including Jack Whitehall, Eva Longoria and David Suchet.

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But who plays who – and where have you seen these actors before?


Jack Whitehall – Paul Pennyfeather

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Who does he play? Paul Pennyfeather is a meek and mild Oxford theology student. Rather unfairly, he falls victim to the drunken antics of the Bollinger Club and finds himself “sent down” (expelled) for indecent conduct. With nowhere to turn, he is forced to take a teaching job at an obscure public boarding school in Wales called Llanabba.

Where have I seen him before? Jack Whitehall is a stand-up comedian. He also starred as JP in the TV series Fresh Meat, and played a useless teacher, Alfie Wickers, in the TV series and movie Bad Education. That should equip him well for this role, as Pennyfeather is also pretty terrible at teaching and discipline.


David Suchet – Dr Fagan

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Who does he play? Dr Fagan is the pompous headmaster of Llanabba. He has a lot of pretensions and wants the school to look good for the rich parents, but he’s perpetually frustrated by his useless staff and unruly pupils.

Where have I seen him before? David Suchet is a British acting legend, best know for his long-serving portrayal of Agatha Christie’s detective Hercule Poirot. Now 70, he has a long and distinguished career behind him including roles in Oppenheimer, The Way We Live Now, Blott on the Landscape, and Henry VIII (opposite Ray Winstone and Helena Bonham Carter).


Eva Longoria – Margot Beste-Chetwynde

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Who does she play? Margot is the rich mother of Pennyfeather’s pupil Peter Beste-Chetwynde. She’s beautiful and outrageous and Pennyfeather is immediately smitten with her.

Where have I seen her before? Eva Longoria is instantly recognisable as Gabrielle Solis from Desperate Housewives. The actress usually stars on American TV, but this time she took the trip across the Atlantic. “I’ve always been dying to do a period piece, I’ve always wanted to do something with the BBC and I’ve always wanted to do something in the UK. So when this came up it felt like it was written for me,” she explains.


Oscar Kennedy – Peter Beste-Chetwynde

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Who does he play? Where the other fifth-formers immediately lay into Pennyfeather (putting varnish on his chalk and pretending to all be called Tangent), organ student Beste-Chetwynde is a bit of a goody-two-shoes and treats him with respect. Having lost his father, he has great hopes for his mother to find happiness again.

Where have I seen him before? Oscar Kennedy has previously played Henry Tudor in The White Queen, William Grey in Outlander, Noah Hoynes in The Politician’s Husband and Edward Turner in Hunted. Back in 2011 he was Young Pip in Great Expectations.


Douglas Hodge – Captain Grimes

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Who does he play? Grimes hates every minute of teaching at Llanabba, and makes it better by drinking – often landing himself in “the soup” (trouble). Having been dishonourably discharged from the army and lost his leg in a drunken tram accident, he has been fired from every job he’s had, but he always gets another one through the public school old boys network. He is sexually attracted to young boys but is engaged to be married to Fagan’s daughter, Flossie, who he despises.

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Where have I seen him before? Everywhere, probably. Douglas Hodge played Rex Mayhew in The Night Manager, Paul Nixon in Unforgotten, Douglas in Catastrophe and Bartholomew Rusk in Penny Dreadful.