Which Doctor Foster characters are in Life – and how are the two dramas connected?

Writer Mike Bartlett has set his new BBC drama in the same TV universe as Doctor Foster.

Doctor Foster Anna and Neil

In Mike Bartlett’s new BBC drama Life, you may spot a few familiar faces from his previous hit drama Doctor Foster – and that’s not just because the screenwriter likes to work with the same actors over and over again.

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It’s because Life is set in the same ‘universe’ as Doctor Foster, and two characters have snuck over from one show to the other.

Here’s what you need to know.

Which Doctor Foster characters appear in Life?

The two Doctor Foster characters in the Life cast are Anna Baker (Victoria Hamilton), now going by the name of Belle, and her ex-husband Neil Baker (Adam James).

The last time we saw either character was mid-way through Doctor Foster season two. Anna was Gemma Foster’s neighbour and friend, who was determined to make her marriage to Neil work after he pledged to stop cheating on her. However, when he broke his promise, it was the final straw – and she announced she was leaving him to move to Edinburgh and live with her sister.

In Life, it’s a few years later, and she’s settled in Manchester.

Victoria Hamilton plays Belle in Life
Victoria Hamilton plays Belle in Life (BBC)
BBC

At a virtual Q&A, Hamilton explained: “Her life has moved on now. The last time you saw her in Doctor Foster she was in an extremely unhappy marriage which she has now left, she’s now divorced. And she’s moved back home, ostensibly, and is now trying to recreate a life for herself after that divorce. And struggling. To put it mildly.

“She has a very complicated challenging relationship with her sister, played brilliantly by Susannah [Fielding], and her family starts to encroach on her life in such a way that she can’t ignore… she’s a wonderful character and I was just amazed and thrilled to be able to play her again, because I never thought when we were doing Doctor Foster, it never even occurred to me that that would ever be on the cards.”

“Belle” is now a pilates teacher whose “neatly ordered life” is disrupted when she has to take in her tricky teenage niece, Maya (Erin Kellyman). And we also know that her ex-husband Neil will be putting in an appearance later in the series.

“It was a great surprise to me – and I can say this because it’s no secret, because it’s been out there – that Neil comes back into her life, which of course is the last thing in the world that she’s expecting,” Hamilton said. “He also comes back into her life for the last reason on earth that she would expect. And I just loved the drama of that.”

Why is she called Belle, not Anna?

Anna has started a new life as Belle – and there’s a very simple explanation behind her new name.

Hamilton revealed: “When Mike sent me the script for Life, I started to read it, and I was reading this wonderful character called Belle, and as I kept reading I kept thinking, ‘God she’s just – he’s done it again because she’s wonderful. She really, really reminds me of Anna! But – this is a character called Belle!’

“And I emailed him and went, ‘She’s quite like Anna.’ And he just sent back this very short email saying, ‘Yes. It is Anna. Anna-Bel. Anna, Belle. Of course it’s the same woman, how could it be any other woman, what’s wrong with you.’ Well, he didn’t say what’s wrong with you, but it was there in silent brackets.”

Victoria Hamilton as Belle in Life
Victoria Hamilton as Belle in Life (BBC)

Why is Anna / Belle included in Life?

It seems screenwriter Mike Bartlett felt he had more to explore with the character.

He explained: “I hope this doesn’t sound pretentious, but when I’m writing a character there are moments when – what you’re looking for is moments when the character starts lying to you, the writer. Or moments when they do something you’re not expecting.

“And in Doctor Foster, Anna – she had gone through all of this, but she just suddenly said in a scene, ‘I’m leaving. I’m completely going to another city, I’m going to start completely again.’ And I remember when I wrote her saying that, thinking – oh that’s surprising. Who does that? Who is this person? All the way through she does quite strange things in Doctor Foster that you wouldn’t – she puts up with stuff you wouldn’t expect she would put up with. She’s always got a glass of wine in her hand in that series.

“And all of those are like questions marks that I felt there were really interesting answers to. And also just the story of, how does someone who’s been in a marriage their whole life and based their – should have felt quite secure, how do they start again at that age on their own? How do they do that? That feels like a really interesting story that I hadn’t seen told.”

Do you need to have seen Doctor Foster before watching Life?

“Absolutely not, no,” Victoria Hamilton said. “To an extraordinary degree, I think, you really don’t need to have seen it.

“It’s a very, very complete story on its own, and much as this character lived in another world once, this is an entirely different universe and you are given everything you need to know about this universe in episode one of this story. There’s nothing more you need to know.”

And if you’re wondering whether to tune in, have a read of our Life review to find out more.

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Life will air from Tuesday 29th September at 9pm on BBC One. Check out what else is on with our TV Guide, or take a look at our new TV shows 2020 page to find out what’s airing this autumn and beyond.