Rory Kinnear plays a real-life Fascist in BBC1's tense thriller Ridley Road. He's portraying Colin Jordan who was the leader of the Fascist group, The National Socialist Movement (NSM) which had very extreme Nazi views, particularly with its vocal antisemitism.
Based on true events, the drama is set in the early 1960s in London’s East End, where support for the NSM was growing and anti-Semitism was rife. It follows young Jewish hairdresser Vivien Epstein (played by newcomer Agnes O’Casey), who travels from Manchester to London to find her lover Jack (Tom Varey).
There she discovers Jack is secretly working for the Jewish resistance organisation, The 62 Group, alongside her Uncle Soly (Eddie Marsan), and has infiltrated the NSM. When Jack goes missing Vivien must go undercover herself and try to find her lover by seducing the incredibly dangerous neo-Nazi Colin Jordan. Some around him, however, become suspicious, including his driver Lee (Danny Hatchard).
Ridley Road is a four-parter that starts on BBC1 on Sunday, Oct.3 (and on PBS in America at a later date), plus all four episodes will be shown on BBCiPlayer from Oct.3 too.
Here, Rory Kinnear, who's previously starred in dramas such as Years and Years, and stars in the current James Bond movie No Time To Die, talks about how it feels to portray such a heinous but historically important character…
Rory Kinnear on his 'Ridley Road' character Colin Jordan…
Rory Kinnear says: “Colin Jordan was a fringe figure of British politics, but also a figurehead of the British far right. During the 1960s he had initially established the BNP with someone else, but they splintered off and became the National Socialist Movement, which in the programme we find him the head of in 1962,” explains Rory. “He did eventually find himself falling from grace – If you can say that he was in a place of grace to start with – and I think he died around 2008 and continued his diatribe of hate until the end of his life.”
What attracted Rory to this role in Ridley Road...
“I know the writer Sarah Solemani (star of Him and Her fame) and I was very keen to see her quality of writing. I like her and the way she is, and I thought she would bring something quite fresh, interesting and dynamic to the adaptation,” says Rory. “And, experiencing during the last four years the language of hate and prejudice and the increased bifurcation of society, it made me want to see where in history this had come previously and how we managed to get through it.
"Also, sometimes, we can consider these problems no longer of relevance to ourselves, and that we’ve worked through it. We think we wouldn’t be a country who has prejudice against either Jewish people or immigration from other countries. But obviously we know, especially in recent years, that this is not the case."
What Rory learnt about the real Colin Jordan...
“I think it always comes as a bit of a shock in 2021, that only seventeen years after World War II, to see people calling for the removal of Jewish people from Britain,” says Rory. “What we see in contemporary far right politics to an extent is this notion that there is this shadowy cabal of Jewish figures operating a global conspiracy to keep down the Christian white man. And here was somebody who himself had fought in the war, and had gone to Cambridge, stirring up that level of hate so soon after the catastrophe of the Holocaust.”
How Rory found playing such a vile character…
“The language that he uses and the tropes he lazily adheres to are so abhorrent. In some ways, they created too much of a barrier between me as an actor and this character,” admits Rory. “While you’re filming you have to commit to the character and believe in it, so the more I read about it, the more distanced and judgemental I found myself becoming of him – as I think most people would be if they’d read anything he’s written. Eventually I had to say, 'What are the central facts of this man’s life?' If I’m going to step into his shoes, I have to do so with the same level of conviction and belief that he had in what he said.”
Rory on this period of British history…
“I knew about the far right in Britain – Oswald Mosley and Enoch Powell. And of course, one knows about the history of black immigration in this country and the barriers and prejudices they faced in the 1950s and 60s,” says Rory. “I didn’t know about Colin Jordan and I didn’t know of the National Socialist Movement. I didn’t know that they had managed to gain so much traction, or at least publicity, by their ability to exploit the shock factor.”
Rory on why the show is so relevant today…
“I don’t think that this show is being made just as a history piece about the 1960s. It’s obviously being made because there is something to be said about contemporary British society,” says Rory. “And also, it is saying that whilst it may not be a majority opinion, these repugnant arguments still exist and we must continue to resist that.”
Rory's favourite memory while filming 'Ridley Road'…
“When we were filming up in Yorkshire for a week, they had a little wild swimming lake up in the grounds of the stately home. So before filming I’d have a lovely plunge at about 7am and then drive back in my car, making sure it was as hot as possible driving back to my room,” recalls Rory.
“The production design is fantastic, you do genuinely feel like you’re thrust into a 60s marketplace,” says Rory. “They’ve done such amazing work, obviously using Manchester to look like London, but also all the contemporary odds and sods that you see around a busy shopping street. How they managed to conceal everything modern while at the same time redoing all the shop fronts is always exciting to be a part of.”
“Due the pandemic, in the rehearsals we were all in masks and we were only allowed to take them off just before action for a take. We had to travel in cars by ourselves and wear masks to and from the set. The last couple of weeks were particularly odd being in Manchester, because it was during the lockdown. You’re in a hotel where there’s no bar, no restaurant and nowhere to go so that’s an odd thing, certainly being away from home too.”
Rory on working with the younger cast members, Tom Varey and Agnes O’Casey.
“It’s been abominable. I hate the young. I hate their hope and I hate their dreams and I’ve tried to crush them as much as possible,” he jokes. “No, I mean the nice thing about acting on any kind of project is that you’re working with a whole wide range of people and ages, at different stages of people’s careers. You get to work and get to know people intensely for a couple of months and then you never have to see them again.
"Obviously for Agnes, this is such an enormous moment in her life, being her first ever job out of drama school. To be essentially in every scene and being the whole centrepiece for the show is huge. I’ve tried to make life as difficult as possible for her and to remind her that it’s not always like this and some of us had to struggle to get any kind of career going! And, as happy as she is, we all hate her for it.”
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