Meet the cast of BBC drama Life

Actors including Alison Steadman, Victoria Hamilton and Adrian Lester lead the ensemble cast of Mike Bartlett's new drama.

Life BBC One

With an excellent cast including Alison Steadman, Victoria Hamilton, Adrian Lester, Elaine Paige and Peter Davison, Mike Bartlett’s new drama Life has been a big hit for the BBC. And while some are watching week-to-week as the show goes out on Tuesday nights on BBC One, others are already bingeing their way through the whole box-set on iPlayer.

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Life serves as a quasi-spin-off from Bartlett’s previous drama, Doctor Foster, but introduces us to a new set of characters with moving and interlocking storylines. Set within a subdivided mansion in Manchester, it takes us inside four flats where the inhabitants are about to go through life-changing experiences.

As we follow the lives of each of these inhabitants, their stories “unfold and intertwine in surprising ways”. Living under the same roof, you’ve got a struggling pilates teacher, an older couple, a grieving teenager, a young couple with a baby – and more. You can take a look at our Life review to find out why we’ve given the show four stars.

Here are the characters who feature in the drama – and the actors who play them, including later additions to the series.

Alison Steadman plays Gail

Alison Steadman plays Gail in Life

Who is Gail? Gail is about to celebrate her 70th birthday “when a chance encounter throws her whole life into question”. She is married to Henry, and they have two grown-up children and a young grandson.

What else has Alison Steadman been in? She is, of course, Pam Shipman from Gavin & Stacey – but Alison Steadman has almost 130 screen credits to her name. Other roles have included Edith in Hold the Sunset, Mrs Bennet in Pride & Prejudice, Barbara in Butterfly, Kendall Malone in Orphan Black, Rose in The Syndicate, Betty Simpson in Fat Friends, Mrs Barlow in The Singing Detective, and Pauline Mole in Adrian Mole The Cappuccino Years.

Peter Davison plays Henry

Peter Davison plays Henry in Life

Who is Henry? Gail’s husband of many, many years. He has a tendency to belittle and patronise her.

What else has Peter Davison been in? Quite a lot of different things! In the early 80s he was the Fifth Doctor in Doctor Who, and he played Tristan Farnon in the original BBC series of All Creatures Great and Small (which has now been remade by Channel 5). Recently he played William Priestley in Gentleman Jack, and James Burge in The Trial of Christine Keeler; he’s also been in Liar, Toast of London, The Last Detective, At Home with the Braithwaites, and A Very Peculiar Practice.

Victoria Hamilton plays Belle

Victoria Hamilton plays Belle in Life
BBC

Who is Belle? A pilates teacher whose “neatly ordered life” is disrupted when she has to take in her tricky teenage niece, Maya. We’ve actually met her before, in writer Mike Bartlett’s previous drama; she’s one of the Doctor Foster characters in Life. “Belle” is Gemma’s neighbour Anna Baker, who left her husband and is now trying to make a new life in Manchester.

What else has Victoria Hamilton been in? The actress has starred in some big TV dramas in recent years: she was the Queen Mother in the first two seasons of The Crown, Anna in Doctor Foster, Anna Marshall in Cobra, and Senator Meaghan Sullivan in Deep State. She has plenty of credits on stage and screen, including Victoria & Albert, Lark Rise to Candleford, A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, Pride & Prejudice, Scoop, Persuasion, and Mansfield Park.

Adam James plays Neil Baker

Adam James plays Neil in Life

Who is Neil? One of the two Doctor Foster characters in Life. He is Belle’s ex-husband, and the two had a tumultuous relationship.

What else has Adam James been in? Aside from playing Neil in Doctor Foster, Adam James has starred in Belgravia (as John Bellasis), I May Destroy You (as Julian), Deep State (as Adam McKay), Home from Home (as Robert Dillon), and Johnny English Strikes Again (as Pegasus). He also has an upcoming role in the TV drama Vigil, playing Lt Commander Mark Prentice.

Adrian Lester plays David

Adrian Lester plays David in Life

Who is David? A university academic. He has a deep Christian faith, and married childhood sweetheart Kelly when they were both young. He is “conflicted by temptation” when he goes on a solo holiday and meets Saira.

What else has Adrian Lester been in? Back in 2004, he played Simon in The Day After Tomorrow; more recently, he’s starred in Hustle (as Mickey Stone), London Spy (as Prof Marcus Shaw), Riviera (as Robert Carver), Trauma (as Jon Allerton) and The Rook (as Conrad Grantchester), as well as playing himself in an episode of David Tennant and Michael Sheen’s lockdown drama Staged.

Rachael Stirling plays Kelly

Rachael Stirling plays Kelly in Life

Who is Kelly? David’s wife. We learn a lot more about her in the first episode, which you can read about in our Life review (spoilers!)

What else has Rachael Stirling been in? You may recognise her as Becky from Detectorists, or Millie Harcourt from The Bletchley Circle, or Mary Harborough from Wild Bill; or perhaps as Nan Astley from Tipping the Velvet. She’s also played Ada in Doctor Who episode The Crimson Horror, and the Duchess of Sutherland in The Young Victoria.

Saira Choudhry plays Saira

Saira Choudhry plays Saira in Life

Who is Saira? Described as “impulsive”, Saira is on holiday with her friends when she meets David and takes a shine to him.

What else has Saira Choudhry been in? The actress spent the first three years of her career starring as Anita Roy in Hollyoaks. Since then, she’s been in shows including Cold Feet (as Vedika Jawad), No Offence (as PC Tegan Thompson), and Coronation Street (as Naila Badal).

Susannah Fielding plays Ruth

Susanna Fielding plays Belle's sister Ruth in Life

Who is Ruth? Belle’s sister. She suffers from mental health problems and has a difficult relationship with her daughter, Maya.

What else has Susannah Fielding been in? Susanna Fielding has recently played Jennie Gresham in This Time with Alan Partridge, and Isobel in Sticks and Stones. Her screen credits include McDonald & Dodds, The Great Indoors, Lovesick, The C Word, and Catastrophe.

Erin Kellyman plays Maya

Erin Kellyman plays Maya in Life

Who is Maya? A 15-year-old who’s going through a lot right now. Her mother Ruth is mentally ill and can’t cope with her, and her aunt Belle doesn’t want to look after her either. Maya’s teachers call her “aggressive”; she feels she’s misunderstood.

What else has Erin Kellyman been in? She is perhaps best known for playing Enfys Nest in Solo: A Star Wars Story, or for starring as Éponine in the 2019 BBC version of Les Misérables. Erin Kellyman has also appeared in Don’t Forget the Driver, Raised by Wolves, and upcoming movie The Green Knight.

Melissa Johns plays Hannah

Melissa Johns plays Hannah in Life

Who is Hannah? A heavily-pregnant young woman who is ready and waiting to welcome her baby daughter. The baby is the result of a passionate one-night stand with a man called Andy, but since becoming pregnant Hannah has coupled up with Liam and they are planning to raise the child together. Still – Hannah’s keen for Andy to also be involved in his child’s life.

What else has Melissa Johns been in? She played Imogen Pascoe in Coronation Street, and Sadie in The Interceptor. Other recent TV credits have included In the Long Run, I Hate Suzie, and Flack, while on Radio 4 she starred in In My Own Skin.

Maggie O’Neill plays Hannah’s mum Wendy

Maggie O'Neill plays Hannah's mum Wendy in Life

Who is Wendy? Hannah’s mother. They have a difficult relationship, and Wendy is often cruel and belittling – but Hannah has extended the olive branch of inviting her to the hen do and wedding.

What else has Maggie O’Neill been in? She is perhaps best known for playing Sheila in Shameless, Dr Alex Redman in Peak Practice, and Suzy in EastEnders. Recent roles have included Yoana in White Lines, Yvonne Duchy in The Split series one, and Ellen Price in Unforgotten.

Joshua James plays Liam

Joshua James plays Liam in Life

Who is Liam? Described as “safe and stable”, Liam is well aware that Hannah’s baby is not biologically his – but he’s looking forward to being a dad. He doesn’t particularly want Andy to be involved.

What else has Joshua James been in? He stars as Tyler Brandon Mills in the TV series Absentia, and has also appeared in I Hate Suzie, Raised by Wolves, McMafia, Black Mirror, and Call the Midwife.

Calvin Demba plays Andy

Calvin Demba plays Andy in Life

Who is Andy? The biological father of Hannah’s baby. After their one-night stand he went travelling for months, but now he’s back and working as a supermarket delivery driver. Andy is keen to be involved and wants to be supportive, but he lacks confidence about how to be a dad.

What else has Calvin Demba been in? One of Calvin Demba’s first roles was as Scott Sabeke in Hollyoaks. Since leaving the show in 2012 he’s been in TV shows including Youngers (as Jay) and Sherlock (as Isaac Whitney), and movies including Kingsman: The Golden Circle.

Geoffrey Streatfeild plays Jonathan

Geoffrey Streatfield plays Jonathan in Life

Who is Jonathan? Gail and Henry’s son.

What else has Geoffrey Streatfeild been in? Recent credits have included Traitors, The Miniaturist, and Prime Suspect 1973. A little further back, he played Fergus Williams in The Thick of It and Calum Reed in Spooks.

Kate Ashfield plays Rachel

Kate Ashfield plays Gail's daughter Rachel in Life

Who is Rachel? Gail and Henry’s daughter.

What else has Kate Ashfield been in? She starred as Liz in Shaun of the Dead, and recently played Mary Parker in Sanditon and Yvonne Fulcher in A Confession. Other credits include Collision, The Diary of Anne Frank, and Line of Duty series one – in which she played DCI Gates’s wife, Jools.

Karl Theobald plays Dominic the electrician

Karl Theobald plays electrician Dominic in Life

Who is Dominic? A divorced electrician who mends the intercom – and later pops round to fix Belle’s light switch.

What else has Karl Theobald been in? He starred as Martin Dear in the Channel 4 sitcom Green Wing, and also played the Landlord in Plebs. Other credits include Yesterday (as Terry), The Queen and I, Hang Ups, Sick Note, GameFace, Twenty Twelve, Primeval, and Pramface.

Buffy Davis plays Dawn 

Buffy Davis plays Dawn in Life

Who is Dawn? Gail’s friend from school, who has enjoyed a successful career.

What else has Buffy Davis been in? She is the voice of Jolene Archer on The Archers, and plays Pippa Woodley in Doc Martin. Recently she appeared in The Trial of Christine Keeler as Barbara Castle MP, while other credits include Anna Karenina, The Machinist, Angel Has Fallen, and The Night Manager.

Emily Head plays Julia

Who is Julia? We don’t want to include any major spoilers, but Julia arrives in episode four after Neil Baker (Adam James) comes back into the story.
Where have I seen Emily Head before? Head played Carli D’Amato (the pined-after ex) in The Inbetweeners, a role she reprised in The Inbetweeners Movie. She also starred in Robot Chicken, Doc Martin, and as Rebecca White in Emmerdale.

David Troughton plays Robert

Life
BBC
Who is Robert? An old friend of Henry and Gail’s. He is a doctor, and is also in charge of Henry’s treatment.
Where have I seen David Troughton before? The stage and screen actor has played Chief Inspector Benson in Grantchester, and Geoff in the first season of Unforgotten. He’s also starred in The Interceptor, The Cafe, New Tricks (Ricky Hanson), Outnumbered, and Combat Kids.

Elaine Paige plays Helen

Life
BBC
Who is Helen? An old friend of Henry and Gail’s. As we found out in episode two (spoiler warning!), she and Henry previously had an affair.
Where have I seen Elaine Paige before? She’s the original Grizabella in the musical Cats, and the voice of the BBC Radio 2 programme Elaine Paige on Sunday. However, the Olivier-winning musical star (dubbed “The First Lady of Musical Theatre”) has also starred in several television dramas in recent years, including Midsomer Murders, Marple, and Home from Home.

Rebecca Hesketh-Smith plays Gaby

Life
BBC
Who is Gaby? Andy’s girlfriend.
Where have I seen Rebecca Hesketh-Smith before? The newcomer has previously starred in Britannia, and the TV film Mother’s Day.
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Life began on Tuesday 29th September on BBC One and airs on Tuesdays at 9pm, with the full series now available on BBC iPlayer. 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.