Boasting a large ensemble cast, The Singapore Grip is packed full of familiar faces as well as relative newcomers to our screens.
The ITV drama is based on the novel by JG Farrell and is set in the Singapore of 1941-42, exploring and satirising colonial society in the run-up to the Japanese invasion.
Here are the cast and characters you need to meet.
Luke Treadaway plays Matthew Webb
Who is Matthew Webb? Young Matthew Webb finds himself summoned to Singapore in 1941 when his elderly father, a wealthy businessman, is taken ill. Described as “a rather naïve and innocent moralistic young man,” Matthew spent the run-up to the Second World War working for the League of Nations and he holds ‘progressive’ ideas. He is, we are told, “determined to right the exploitative wrongs being done to the locals by the Blackett & Webb company” but is “thwarted by the impending threat of war and, being terrified of offending his father’s long-term business partner, the commanding figure of Walter.” Upon arrival, Matthew immediately finds himself caught between two very different women: Joan Blackett and Vera Chiang.
What else has Luke Treadaway been in? Luke Treadaway won an Olivier Award for leading role in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. On screen, he’s starred as Dr Arthur Calgary in Agatha Christie adaptation Ordeal by Innocence, Vincent Rattrey in Fortitude, James in A Street Cat Named Bob, Brewis in Attack the Block and Hugh Fenton in Traitors. Try not to get him confused with his identical twin brother (and fellow actor) Harry Treadaway, though, whose credits include Star Trek: Picard, Mr Mercedes, The Crown, and Penny Dreadful.
David Morrissey plays Walter Blackett
Who is Walter Blackett? The ruthless chairman of rubber merchant and agency house Blackett & Webb Ltd, which he built up alongside old Mr Webb. Walter Blackett believes entirely in the rightness of the British Empire and the virtues of commerce, and so he does not see eye-to-eye with newcomer Matthew Webb. However, father-of-three Walter has a clever plan to subdue Matthew and bring him into the fold by marrying him to his eldest daughter, Joan.
What else has David Morrissey been in? Some of David Morrissey’s most notable recent roles have included Philip ‘The Governor’ Blake in The Walking Dead, Aulus in Britannia, Sam Webster in The Missing, and Inspector Borlú in The City and the City. A little further back, he earned a Bafta nomination for starring as Stephen Collins in State of Play, and won an RTS Award for playing Gordon Brown in The Deal. Other TV shows and movies have included Sense and Sensibility, The Other Boleyn Girl, Red Riding, Nowhere Boy, and Centurion.
Charles Dance plays Mr Webb
Who is Mr Webb? Matthew’s 70-year-old father, who is a semi-retired partner in Blackett & Webb Ltd. Mr Webb was able to ruthlessly build up a business empire founded on the exploitation of the native communities and economy, but over the years he has developed a different perspective from his business partner Walter Blackett: he now admires the idealistic nature of his son, and is prepared to vouch for Chinese refugee Vera Chiang when Walter refuses to do so – ultimately inviting Vera to live with him, and developing a close platonic relationship with her. Mr Webb has become more eccentric in his later years and now enjoys pruning his roses in the nude.
What else has Charles Dance been in? Since making his screen debut in 1974, Charles Dance has had a prolific career with plenty of high-profile roles. In recent years, those roles have included Lord Mountbatten in The Crown, Martin Benson in The Widow, Tywin Lannister in Game of Thrones, Mr Fairlie in The Woman in White, and Commander Picton in Little Drummer Girl. Other credits include The Great Fire, Strike Back, Bleak House, Gosford Park, The Imitation Game, Alien 3, Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal, and The Jewel in the Crown.
Jane Horrocks plays Sylvia Blackett
Who is Sylvia Blackett? Walter’s wife, and mother to two grown-up kids – Monty and Joan – as well as to little Kate. Sylvia Blackett is described as “a respectable pillar of local society” who sets great store by reputation and appearances. She is deeply concerned about the “unsuitable men” her eldest daughter Joan enjoys flirting with, though her husband Walter trusts that Joan will ultimately be sensible.
What else has Jane Horrocks been in? A lot of things. She was Bubble/Katy Grin in the sitcom (and the movie) Absolutely Absolutely Fabulous, with other credits including Little Voice, Life is Sweet, Chicken Run, Corpse Bride, Trollied, The Amazing Mrs Pritchard, and The Witches. On the stage, she was Olivier-nominated for her starring role in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, and she’s also been up for a Golden Globe and a BAFTA.
Georgia Blizzard plays Joan Blackett
Who is Joan Blackett? The eldest daughter of the Blackett family, Joan is “a beautiful and rebellious young woman, with no qualms in stringing a number of men along… she relies on her sexual allure and sharp intelligence to ensure that men fall under her spell.” But when Matthew Webb arrives in Singapore, Joan quickly realises that marrying him would be a good business move in uniting the Blackett and Webb family fortunes; all she has to do is seduce him. As ITV puts it, “Joan takes after her father in her ruthless attitude towards the feelings of those around her – a quality he sees and admires – prompting him to share his secrets of the trade and bring her into the rubber fold.”
What else has Georgia Blizzard been in? The Australian actress is a relative newcomer to our screens, having been selected after a global casting search. She’s previously made small appearances in Thor: Ragnarok and in Home and Away.
Elizabeth Tan plays Vera Chiang
Who is Vera Chiang? A mysterious Chinese refugee. After a chance meeting with Joan Blackett on the boat from Shanghai in 1937, she comes back into the picture in Singapore a few years later when she asks Joan’s father to vouch for her and save her from deportation. Walter Blackett declines to do so, but Mr Webb steps in – and the two quickly form a friendship. Vera, who speaks perfect English, says she was born in Russia to a Chinese tea merchant and a Russian princess; “she is a survivor, and fiercely independent, having travelled the world and managed to get out of every situation unscathed. She falls in love with Matthew, but the odds are against them with Matthew’s naïve nature and of course, Joan.”
What else has Elizabeth Tan been in? She is perhaps best-known for starring as Xin Chiang (later Xin Proctor) in ITV soap opera Coronation Street, making a short-lived but dramatic appearance in 2011. Since then, Elizabeth Tan has appeared in The Syndicate, Waterloo Road, and Top Boy (as Maude); she also has an upcoming role in Emily in Paris. Doctor Who fans may recognise her as Anna Zhou, the character she played in 2008 episode Journey’s End.
Luke Newberry plays Monty Blackett
Who is Monty Blackett? Walter and Sylvia’s only son, who would be the obvious heir to take over the company. However, he is silly, spoiled, brash and insensitive, and – much to Walter’s dismay – he has very little interest in business, as well as being distinctly lacking in brains and common sense; his interests actually lie in paid sexual encounters, brothels, and the pursuit of amusement. Monty is also determined to avoid fighting in the war or taking part in the war effort, and (in common with his father) he believes absolutely in the superiority and benefits of the British Empire.
What else has Luke Newberry been in? The BAFTA-nominated actor starred as Kieren Walker in the TV series In the Flesh. Luke Newberry’s other credits include From Darkness (as DS Anthony Boyce), Death in Paradise, Cucumber and Banana, The Legend of Hercules, and Anna Karenina. He also made a brief appearance in the final Harry Potter movie, playing Teddy Lupin.
Colm Meaney plays Major Brendan Archer
Who is Major Brendan Archer? As a partner in Blackett & Webb, the Major oversees one of its subsidiaries called the Mayfair – a rubber company which is Mr Webb’s pet retirement project. The Major is reserved and considerate, and he befriends characters including Mr Webb, Vera Chiang, Matthew Webb; his sense of civic duty inspires him to sort out a civilian firefighting unit and think up ways to help pet dogs through air raids and gas attacks. But while the Major is increasingly aware of (and upset by) his company’s callous and exploitative practices, he does nothing about it.
The Singapore Grip is actually the last in a trio of novels, JG Farrell’s ‘The Empire Trilogy’, but – while each novel deals with overarching themes – the characters do not really overlap. The exception to this is the figure of Major Brendan Archer, who readers of Farrell’s ‘Troubles’ (1970) will recognise as the protagonist from that Booker Prize-winning novel.
What else has Colm Meaney been in? The Irish actor is known to Star Trek fans for his role as Miles O’Brien. Recently he starred as Finn Wallace in Gangs of London; other credits include Con Air, Layer Cake, Hell on Wheels, The Journey, and Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa.
Bart Edwards plays Captain James Ehrendorf
Who is Captain James Ehrendorf? A handsome American soldier who is hopelessly in love with Joan, even though she treats him terribly. He is aware of this, but subjects himself to repeated humiliations. Ehrendorf is also an old friend of Matthew Webb’s from the time they spent studying together at Oxford.
What else has Bart Edwards been in? Having made his TV debut in EastEnders as Olly Greenwood back in 2008, Bart Edwards went on to appear in Call the Midwife, Peep Show, and Fresh Meat. Over the last couple of years we’ve seen him as Jasper Hunt in UnREAL, Urcheon in The Witcher, Jonathan Kay in State of Happiness, and – most recently – as Fredrik in Netflix drama Young Wallander.
Christophe Guybet plays Francois Dupigny
Who is Francois Dupigny? Frenchman Dupigny fled French Indochina when the Japanese took the region in 1940, arriving in Singapore with just the clothes on his back. He has ended up living at Mr Webb’s house, the Mayfair, and befriending Major Brendan Archer. Described as “the philosopher of the piece,” he is “one of the only characters who really fears the advancement of the Japanese, and predicts that they will do so imminently and with ease.” (In the novel, it is also indicated that Dupigny is solely attracted to pubescent teenage girls – a detail which may not have made it into the TV series!)
What else has Christophe Guybet been in? The French actor has appeared in a number of French-language TV shows and movies, including Sakho & Mangane, ‘Les trois frères, le retour’, and Famille décomposée.
Sam Cox plays Sir Robert Brooke-Popham
Who is Sir Robert Brooke-Popham? Air Chief Marshall and Commander in Chief Far East, “whose hubris sees him grossly underestimate the Japanese.” As ITV puts it, “Like the majority of the British colonialists in Singapore at this time, he believed in their superiority, and is, in effect, the reason they were defeated so quickly and humiliatingly, having failed to deploy ‘Operation Matador’ to countermand their threat.” Sir Robert Brooke-Popham was actually a real person.
What else has Sam Cox been in? The character actor appeared in 2006 Doctor Who episode The Idiot’s Lantern, playing Detective Inspector Bishop; he’s also been in Casualty, Father Brown, and Anna Karenina.
Other actors and characters include…
- Joe Bannister as Slyvia’s much-younger brother, Charlie Tyrell, who drinks too much and is fighting in the war.
- Julian Wadham as Walter’s business rival, Solomon Langfeld.
- Nicholas Agnew as Solomon’s son Nigel Langfeld, who is a volunteer firefighter and much more impressive than Walter’s own son Monty.
- Ed Birch as an Aide to Brooke-Popham, based on the character of Sinclair Sinclair from the novel – who has a strong stutter.
- Dave Tan as Chinese businessman Mr Wu.
- Richard Lumsden as General A Percival, a key military figure on the British side.
- Danny Yeo as Mr Webb’s servant Cheong.
- Martin Wenner as the (real life) Governor of the Straits Settlements, Sir Shenton Thomas.
The Singapore Grip airs from Sunday 13th September at 9pm on ITV. Check out what else is on with our TV Guide.
You can buy The Singapore Grip on Amazon now.