The Crimson Field’s Karl Davies on the return of Corporal Lawrence Prentiss

The actor who portrays the shell shock victim tells about his harrowing research into the "horrendous" condition


Any avid viewers of The Crimson Field will recognise Karl Davies – he appeared in episode one as shell shock victim Corporal Lawrence Prentiss who was sent back into battle against the wishes of Colonel Roland Brett (played by Kevin Doyle). This weekend sees his return to the field hospital but his condition is much, much worse. We caught up with Karl to hear all about his preparation to portray the “horrendous” battle trauma…


For anyone who hasn’t seen episode one, what can you tell us about Corporal Prentiss?

He’s a young soldier who’s gone to the front line to do his duty for his country but wasn’t prepared enough to deal with what he was going to be faced with which has obviously affected him hugely on a psychological level and left him with combat fatigue and shell shock, as it was called back then. He’s just a young man who was doing his duty and has found himself, as many of them did, in an incredible situation he’s unable to cope with. 

Is it hard to convey that mental side of things when you have very few lines? 

Very much so because there’s a serious lack of dialogue. I hardly say anything in either of the two episodes I’m in but it’s a lot of physical and emotional, traumatic things going on in the inside that you try and get to show. 

What sort of research did you do to get into character? 

Like with any research, the first place you go is Google and then YouTube. There was a British Pathé website that had actual footage of 1917 and 1918 soldiers with shell shock. A silent, black and white movie but moving images of the guys and some of it’s horrendous. Obviously it was psychological but they were physically completely incapacitated. There was one guy who was solid with rigor – someone was literally attacking his knee to try and bend it in half and it just wouldn’t do it. Some of the footage was pretty horrendous and almost too much – I watched it and thought, if I was to do that in the show people would say, “Oh, that’s ridiculous. No one would have been like that.” Some of the guys were in such a mess that people wouldn’t believe it unless they saw a real version of it. 

So, when Prentiss reappears in tonight’s episode, his case of shell shock is far more extreme…

He’s in a much worse condition than we’ve seen. He’s completely psychologically damaged. Like I said, some of these guys were unable to walk and move properly and speech was beyond them – they go into themselves and that’s unfortunately where we find Prentiss. He’s heavily sedated when he first arrives back at the hospital and when Colonel Brett finds him he’s in a real mess.

Was it nice to be reunited with Hermione Norris? It’s been a few years since your days starring together in Kingdom… 

It was lovely to see her again. We’d spent three summers in Norfolk together. I’d worked with Suranne before as well – she played my auntie, actually, in a black comedy called Dead Clever because her character spanned twenty-odd years. I do still wind her up about that because there’s only about three or four years between us. 

And your next film, Black Sea, sees you working with Jude Law? 

I’ve got the opening scene with Jude Law’s character, Captain Robinson, and I get to fire him. I get to sack Jude Law which was great.

Watch Karl Davies in The Crimson Field – tonight (27 April) at 9:00pm on BBC1