Meet the cast of The Village

John Simm, Maxine Peake, Nico Mirallegro and Juliet Stevenson star in BBC1's new epic drama series


John Simm plays John Middleton


Can you tell us about your character?

He’s the head of the Middleton family, a very poor farming family who have had the farm for generations. He’s got a lot of issues and is carrying around a lot of guilt, which becomes evident (and you find out the reason for this later). He is an alcoholic and very unhappy. John loves his wife (Grace – Maxine Peake) – needs her, calls her mother, desperately loves her but beats her as well. He’s a walking contradiction. He is a very scary father and husband when we first meet him, but then he changes.

What research did you do for the role?

I researched into farming of the time and there was this brilliant book that Antonia Bird, our director, gave us Milk, Muck and Memories by Margaret Wombwell. The book was invaluable because they were first-hand accounts of working farmers and their working methods from the period. It might sound rather dull, but it was invaluable to look at. And also Regeneration, by Pat Barker, based around WWI – which I hadn’t read – and this was a great excuse to read it. I also just read around the time, and took it from there.

What did you enjoy about playing John Middleton?

He’s a very intriguing character – he goes on a huge journey of redemption and a couple of episodes in – he finds god. The character is completely turned on his head and becomes obsessed with preaching – and then the war comes – it’s a hell of a part. Peter (Moffat) is such a brilliant writer, that it was a gift really.

How was filming in the Peak District?

It was certainly challenging with those costumes, in that weather. But you know, we’re actors – it’s very easy for us, we have it cushy really. We had foot warmers, and when they stop filming you get a huge coat around you – it’s not the end of the world. You can’t really start to complain when you think it’s what people actually went through. Freezing cold farms in the midwinter – unheated bar one fire. It just makes you appreciate how hard it must have been.

What one item would you take back with you from 2013 to 1913?

Thermals. Maybe some really good boots, hand-warmers… electricity. Basically something to keep me warm and dry – maybe a 4 wheel drive with a really good heater!

You might recognise John Simm from roles in Mad Dogs, Doctor Who and Everyday.

Maxine Peake plays Grace Middleton

Can you tell us about your character?

I play Grace Middleton who is a mother of two boys and wife of John Middleton (John Simm), who runs the local farm which has seen better days. Life is a struggle for them and they scrape by and the marriage is quite strained due to the desperate situation. Grace channels all her energy into her family with a focus on ambition and the idea of freedom for her sons.

What drew you to the project?

The writer, Peter Moffat, was a big draw to be honest. He’s an extraordinary writer and I’ve had the privilege to have worked with him on two projects Criminal Justice and Silk. The drama has two top drawer directors, Antonia Bird and Gilles MacKinnon, which added to the attraction for me and of course getting to share the screen with Mr Simm.

What did you enjoy about working on a period drama?

I wasn’t lucky enough to have lovely costumes. I literally had one costume that spans a period of 6 years! Our family are very poor but I did get a new skirt in 1920. I was very envious of Martha’s (Charlie Murphy) costumes she looked stunning.

Did you learn any new skills during filming?

Lots of darning! I’m now an expert at darning socks. When we were filming I was supposed to skin a rabbit, which for someone who doesn’t eat meat wasn’t particularly appealing, but that got cut in the end. I also became pretty good at chopping vegetables, but it’s the darning that I’ll take away with me.

What one item would you take back with you from 2013 to 1913?

Given the cold wet weather, an electric blanket would have been nice. Hot water bottles were my saviour when we were filming scenes in bed.

You might recognise Maxine Peake from roles in Room at the Top, Silk, Private Peaceful and The Hollow Crown.

Nico Mirallegro plays Joe Middleton

Can you tell us about your character?

I play Joe Middleton – who is the eldest son of Grace and John Middleton. Joe is the adoring older brother of Bert Middleton who he shares a close relationship with. My dad, John, is an alcoholic, so Joe takes on a paternal-like role towards Bert. He works at the Big House.

Did you enjoy filming a period drama?

I love putting on the costumes. The Village is a completely different as everything is so stripped back and the focus is on the ‘ordinary man’. The Middleton family have nothing – barely a roof – which highlights the harsh reality of the period.

Did you have to do much research for the role?

I only knew what I’d learnt in school – but I really enjoy doing research. I read a few books that focused on the 1912-14 period – it’s nice to know how we lived back then.

What was your most memorable moment during filming?

Definitely the scene in the lake – It was SO cold!! Me and Young Bert had to strip to our underwear and jump in. It was so painfully cold and a real shock that I couldn’t even get the line out – and that has stuck in my head ever since. Also the Middleton family dinners, around the table. They were very beautiful scenes that were made very real thanks to our director.

What one item would you take back with you from 2013 to 1913?

A good ol’ meal – a fry up.

You might recognise Nico Mirallegro from roles in Hollyoaks, Upstairs Downstairs and My Mad Fat Diary.

Bill Jones plays young Bert Middleton

Can you tell us about your character?

I play Bert Middleton who is about 12 years old in episode one (I’ve just turned 12). He lives with his family on a farm with very little money but he loves them all very much. He’s a bit frightened of his dad but adores his brother Joe. He will do anything for his mother Grace. He’s a very kind boy who works very hard and has quite a clever streak in him.

What were your most memorable scenes?

It was swimming outside almost naked in the dew pond. I can’t tell you how cold it was. Also it was the only time I was allowed fizzy pop when filming. When I got out I had some coke to kill all the germs from the pond. Also I remember some of the sad and dramatic scenes, as Maxine and John were so good – it all seemed so real.

Did you like being in a period drama?

The clothes were quite itchy and uncomfortable. I had my hair cut short but my brothers’ thought it was really trendy. I liked using the old box camera and using the scythe harvesting was hard work.

Did you have to learn any new skills?

My favourite was learning to box with John (Simm) – it was awesome. I had to learn how to handle Big Molly (the horse) and how to drive the milk cart – which was very frightening at first. Doing my own stunts was great. I had to fall off a roof and be knocked out!

What one item would you take back with you from 2013 to 1913?

It would have to be my own pillow. It goes everywhere with me as it reminds me of home. If you can get a good sleep you can face anything the next day.

The Village is Bill Jones’ first role.

Juliet Stevenson plays Clem Allingham

Can you tell us about your character?

I play Clem Allingham, the head of the Allingham family – who are the aristocratic gentry living on the edge of the village. I have a husband who was seriously disfigured in the Zulu war and walks around the house like a shell of the person he once was. He is a ghostly character and she is very much the head of the household. Clem has to take on many responsibilities that women of the time wouldn’t have normally had to take on. She has three children: Edmund, George and Caro (who of course has her issues). Clem starts the series very much a product of her past, holding onto the status quo and is very resistant to progress or change… Clem has to start thinking about how to adapt to circumstances, which is what The Village is about – adapting to external circumstances.

What was filming in this period like?

You get a good sense of how large proportions of the day were spent on managing the basics. The amount of time it takes to heat the room by the fire. How it will need to be cleaned from the day before and kept going all day. You change into a different dress three times a day, your hair is up then down, then up. The amount of time in the day that women spent on what we would consider trivia is unfathomable… When you have an inquisitive mind, which I believe Clem did, the level of boredom felt in dealing with all these menial activities, must have been quite high. Being waited on 24/7 would drive me completely nuts. A high level of patience was required in that time, particularly by the women.

Have you filmed in the Peak District before?

Yes I have and that was lovely because my very very first TV job was a series called The Mallens which was a highly popular series. I played the young girl lead, which was an amazing opportunity. Filming here is a really rich experience – very happy and memorable…  I shivered in a corset 30 years ago, I shivered in a corset this time round.

What one item would you take back with you from 2013 to 1913?

Antibiotics. I say that after a week of my family being ill in the present day.

You might recognise Juliet Stevenson from roles in White Heat, Bend It Like Beckham, Accused and The Hour.

Rupert Evans plays Edmund Allingham

Can you tell us about your character?

I play Edmund Allingham, the eldest son in the Allingham family and also the MP to the surrounding constituency of The Village. He is an entrepreneur who is extremely driven and front footed. Edmund has a strong focus on maintaining financial stability for himself and his family and achieves this through any means – whether politics or business. Edmund has a very close relationship with his mother, Clem (Juliet Stevenson). I admire Juliet hugely and it was a great experience to be able to work with her. We formed a very close relationship in order to echo the special mother-son bond between Edmund and Clem which is very strong in the series.

Did you enjoy being part of a period drama?

I absolutely love doing period dramas. This is my eighth period drama and they have ranged from Emma to Crime and Punishment. I love the etiquette/ values/ dress and how people lived in the early 20th Century. A lot changed, the suffragette movement became stronger, technology developed at an extraordinary pace and the class system was completely different to what we have now.

Did you have to do much research for the role?

I did research social etiquette for gentry families of the time. It was odd doing a lot of scenes with service – where you naturally want to address them as equals but must treat them as below.

What was your most memorable scene during filming?

The dinner scene has stuck with me, and I’m sure will haunt me forever as there were 17 takes for the scene, which meant I ate a roast lamb dinner 17 times.

What one item would you take back with you from 2013 to 1913?

I am a motorbike enthusiast – so my motorbike.

You might recognise Rupert Evans from roles in World Without End, Emma and Fingersmith.

Emily Beecham plays Caro Allingham

Can you tell us about your character?

I play Caro. She is the 23 year old daughter of the big house. She is the middle child of the family but is closest to her brother George who accepts her quirkiness more that the others. She is a little bored in the constraints of being a young lady in the house. She has affections for the young servant boy Joe and is quite bold about this.

How was filming in the Peak District?

One particular scene we were shooting on a hill top and we could see a dark storm cloud very quickly approaching. So we were racing the cloud before we would all get soaked. My character was wearing a nightdress so was a touch chilly

What was your most memorable moment while filming?

I had quite a lot of unusual scenes especially being on mountaintops in a nightdress!

What one item would you take back with you from 2013 to 1913?

A mobile phone

You might recognise Emily Beecham from roles in Tess of the D’Urbervilles, The Street and Merlin.

Augustus Prew plays George Allingham

Can you tell us about your character?

I play George Allingham, the youngest son of the Big House. He connects his dysfunctional family together as is able to empathise with the sense of aristocratic duty that his mother swears by; understands though does not condone the Machiavellian tendencies of his brother Edmund and embraces the liberated eccentricities of his sister. He’s a poet with Byronic tendencies, a lover of art and nature but mostly, a progressive who wants to help reform the world around him for the benefit of others. He’s a wonderful character. He grows throughout the series from naive upper class boyhood to the harsh realities of a rapidly changing world.

Did you enjoy being part of a period drama?

I love period dramas – being able to plunge myself as an actor into a different time, a different mindset. It’s wonderfully reassuring to realise that fundamentally nothing ever really changes. Human relationships and dilemmas and their emotional responses are timeless.

How was filming in the Peak District?

I had never been to the Peak District before but I can’t wait to return. It is stunningly beautiful; truly truly magnificent. The people there are so friendly and welcoming. Every location we filmed in, I always felt the sense of community and support.

What one item would you take back with you from 2013 to 1913?

My iPod. Music was so hard to come by then. I listen to music the whole time. It picks me up and brings me down. It has such a profound effect on my mood and my outlook in life and I wonder how it would change me if I had to go without it.

You might recognise Augustus Prew from roles in The Borgias, Silent Witness and The Secret of Moonacre.

Charlie Murphy plays Martha Lane

Can you tell us about your character?

I played Martha Lane. She has just moved to the village because her father runs a Methodist Church there. So she’s a bit of an outsider at the beginning. She’s young and full of energy and morals. She becomes very hands on with the fallen characters in the village – trying to save their souls, but with all this she’s still a young woman.

What was your most memorable moment while filming?

One of my favourites was with Nico and Bill in the forest. We started filming in the sunshine running down a hill then torrential rain came and for continuity we had to carry on running down the same track which had turned into a stream, we were slipping and holding each other up all afternoon, it was farcical but fun. That was our first scene together so we got to know each other very fast!

How did going back to basics feel?

It was an eye opener… I had this romantic notion of time back then, but I know it was hard work just getting by if you didn’t have any money. People were made of stronger stuff.

Did you learn any new skills during filming?

Not really…but I learned how to endure a corset for 10+ hours it that’s a skill?!

What one item would you take back with you from 2013 to 1913?

A washing machine!

You might recognise Charlie Murphy from roles in Single-Handed, Misfits and Love/Hate.


The Village starts on Easter Day at 9:00pm on BBC1