TV fans tuning into the final instalment of BBC drama Trust Me tonight will be eager to find out what happens to Cath Hardacre/Dr Ally Sutton, the doctor imposter played with crackling precision by Jodie Whittaker.
But fans of the show have also been impressed by Sharon Small, the 50-year-old actress who has delivered a fabulously layered performance as Dr Brigitte Rayne, the most senior doctor in the Edinburgh department where the series is set, and one with a serious drink problem.
As Cath has battled with the threat of exposure – and a more than complicated love life – Brigitte has waged a war with her own demons which have already seen her kill one patient.
But Small, an actress you will recognise from a host of shows such as The Inspector Lynley Mysteries, Mistresses, and more recently in Stonemouth and Call The Midwife, believes the TV landscape is unfairly stacked against women her age – especially when it comes to playing the roles of a spouse or love interest.
“I’ve gone for parts that are written for 48, and they’ve given it to a 38-year-old,” she tells RadioTimes.com with a faint smile. “So you know, what do you do with that? You think ‘thank God someone’s written for a 40-year-old’ and then they don’t, they don’t give it to you.
“Age is less kind to women and there’s that message that they want the women to look younger, they don’t question it for a man, but they question it for a woman. How could she possibly be having sex?”
Small cites the case of Jamie Denbo, best known for her role as Shelly Ginsberg in Orange is the New Black, who claimed earlier this year that she was rejected for a role opposite a 57-year-old actor as she was reportedly “too old” to play his wife and to be the mother of an 18-year-old daughter. Denbo is 43.
Adds Small: “She’s tweeting that she’s too old to be the wife of a 57-year-old actor and too old to be the mother of an 18-year-old and you’re just like ‘really?!’
“A woman who’s having sex shouldn’t be over 42, you know, yet the man can be 55, and no one questions that, and if it was the other way round and the woman was 55 and the man was 42, they’d make her cougar-esque…
“That’s what they did with James Bond”, she says referring to Monica Bellucci, a Bond star at 51 in the 2015 film Spectre. “They were asking Daniel Craig, ‘what’s it like to kiss an older woman?’ With Monica Bellucci! One of the most beautiful, extraordinary women in the world, and he said ‘she’s nearly the same age as me’. But his love interest was someone who’s very much younger.”
Small – who is mother to two boys, 11-year old Leo and nine-year-old Zac – adds: “We’ve got very interesting stories to tell… we just should be able to tell them. Women are really doing the life balance, a lot of us had late children, had children late so to speak, and then we’ve got ailing parents, and that life balance is tricky but it’s interesting.
“I’d just like to see a little more balance. It shouldn’t be difficult, a man who is 55 on screen, having a 55-year-old wife, or a 52 or a 54-year-old wife, someone who is on parity with his age… but for some reason that is less attractive.”
Trust Me concludes tonight on BBC1