Poldark’s Rebecca Front on playing Lady Whitworth – the mother of ghastly cleric Osborne

Is she to blame for her awful son? And is she even worse?

Programme Name: Poldark - Series 4 - TX: n/a - Episode: Poldark S4 - Portraits  (No. n/a) - Picture Shows:  Lady Whitworth (REBECCA FRONT) - (C) Mammoth Screen  - Photographer: Mike Hogan

Ossie’s got a mum! Yes, in the third episode of series four, Poldark fans will get their first glimpse of the person responsible for bringing Christian Brassington’s hideous cleric Osborne Whitworth into the world – and she’s played by The Thick of It star Rebecca Front.

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Speaking on set in Bristol, Front told RadioTimes.com that her new character is “ghastly”, well-to-do but “probably coming down in the world.”

“Money is a problem but she’s probably the poshest person in most rooms,” she says, adding that most of Lady Whitworth’s wealth is contained in the inherited jewellery she flaunts in the show – and which she is wearing in the on-set green room where she has joined me for a chat.

“We reckon this is all ancestral jewellery. Money is not available but this is there so she’s wearing a fortune which is great for me.”

While preparing the back story, Front and Brassington discussed the family background at length, and agreed that, while they may be strapped for cash, the Whitworths are probably the poshest family in Poldark.

“They may not have the most money and so they may not be the poshest now in terms of what they have and own, but historically they probably are and more importantly, they consider themselves the most aristocratic.

“The fact that her son is a clergyman and has to earn a living shows their financial status. Joining the church is a younger son sort of thing to do and we don’t know if there is another child, there doesn’t seem to be. But there’s a sense that ‘we’re better than this’ with them.

“Christian tends to use this elaborate, languid way of speaking which is part of what makes Ossie so unlikeable because he speaks almost like he can’t be bothered to talk to anyone else, he is so relaxed and confident which is brilliant and adds to the character.”

But why is her on-screen son so awful? Snobbery is one thing – but he’s a sexual criminal, a deviant and a compassionless, soulless villain with a penchant for toe-sucking.

She and Brassington agreed that his awfulness is partly because he was palmed off as a child to various nannies and governesses and schools.

They agreed that Ossie’s (now deceased) father was probably highly promiscuous too, something her character had to stoically ignore, though it probably inspired his offspring.

“We said she’s taken the decision to shut herself off emotionally which is why she can have no sympathy for [his wife] Morwenna [Ellise Chappell]. She just had to accept that her husband was off having affairs and had to put up with it. She made a decision very early on to close her heart, she wasn’t going to have any emotion at all and that is what she was like when she was raising Ossie. She wouldn’t have been a hands-on mum.”

But Front is stumped on the question of why her on-screen son is a foot fetishist.

“Gawd, I didn’t think about that at all,” she laughs when I ask.

And who can blame her?

“Lady Whitworth is very measured and controlled. She is very well spoken but everything is sort of on a weary sigh because she is tired of dealing with all of these silly people. It is the kind of voice that puts your opponent on the back foot straight away and that’s used to barking orders at servants. It is designed to put people on edge.

“It’s so weird because I am so not like that. I am going through a phase of playing formidable woman and I am so not like that. I like it though. It’s quite cathartic. So I get to be the person I’m incapable of being. I really am someone who can’t complain in restaurants. It’s a family joke. If we get a really dodgy room in the hotel I melt into the background and let my husband deal with it…”

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Poldark is on BBC1 on Sunday nights