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'The Long Call' star Ben Aldridge: 'I feel proud to be a part of it!'

The Long Call - Ben Aldridge as DI Matthew Venn, in a shirt and tie with a long dark trenchcoat, standing on a Devon beach with police cars behind him
Ben Aldridge as DI Matthew Venn in ITV's four-part drama The Long Call. (Image credit: ITV)

Our Girl star Ben Aldridge is returning to our screens in crime drama The Long Call as DI Matthew Venn, a part that could have been written for him — not only does he imbue the character with complexity and warmth, but he also shares an uncannily similar background with his character in real life.

The Long Call is adapted from a novel of the same name by author Ann Cleeves, whose books inspired the TV series Shetland and Vera, and follows DI Matthew Venn who has moved with his husband back to the North Devon community where he grew up. When a body is found on the beach near where they live, the investigation brings him back into contact with the Barum Brethren, the religious group he was raised in but felt forced to break ties with after realising he no longer believed.

Here Our Girl and Pennyworth star Ben tells us more...

Ben Aldridge on DI Matthew Venn's background in 'The Long Call'

"We meet him at the start of the series having returned to his hometown where he had left — or kind of been exiled from — 20 years previously. It's complicated — he could no longer stay there, but also he was no longer welcome because he was raised in a very strict religious community that no longer aligned with his beliefs. We first meet him attending his father's funeral, which he is not allowed to be part of, and that's when he finds out about the dead body on the beach."

What did you know about groups like the Brethren before taking the role?

"There are many, very coincidental, crossovers between this story and my own life. I was born and raised in Devon, just outside Exeter, and both of my parents were raised in the Brethren church — geographically nowhere near each other, in Essex and in Devon. My parents left the Brethren just before they met, actually, when they were 18, so I was raised as an evangelical Christian. So I definitely have an inside perspective on the faith and the core beliefs of that — and having moved away from that myself as well, I suppose I understand the journey of faith progressing beyond Christianity, so there have been many things that cross over from the character and my own life."

How easy was it for you to get into character?

Matthew Venn (Ben Aldridge) with his husband Jonathan (Declan Bennett) standing on the path outside their house, with the beach in the background

Matthew Venn (Ben Aldridge) with his husband Jonathan (Declan Bennett). (Image credit: ITV)

"I did the audiobook for Ann's book quite a while ago, I think before it had been commissioned as a TV series, so I had read the book quite a few times — it's wonderfully detailed about his inner battles, his psychology, and his history with his family, so that was such detailed preparation. But also, I suppose my own lived experience as we crossed over: the character's gay, I'm gay, that's been a very interesting journey for me personally. So I suppose I felt quite prepared to play him already — it's not something that I've had to root around and search for, but it definitely involved some interesting self-examination."

It's rare for a TV crime drama to have a gay character as the lead detective — was that part of the appeal for you?

"Yeah, I feel quite proud to be part of that, I'm really glad ITV are doing that. I'm also really pleased that they haven't just made the character gay for the sake of ticking a box, for inclusion and diversity — it's a story that really examines the tensions between shame and pride, and that journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance."

He has recently lost his dad — what's his relationship with his mum Dorothy, played by Juliet Stevenson, like?

Juliet Stevenson as Dorothy Venn, wearing a cardigan, with a long skirt and a headscarf, standing outside one of the bungalows where the Barum Brethren live

Can Matthew rebuild bridges with his mother Dorothy (Juliet Stevenson)? (Image credit: ITV)

"His relationship with his mother is non-existent, really. I think he had some semblance of contact with his father, more so than with his mother. It's really them confronting each other and being around each other for the first time in 20 years after a very traumatising separation. So it's very charged and very loaded — and very little is said!  They're cut from the same cloth, really — they're both quite reserved, very British, not very outwardly emotional people, so starting a conversation between them is quite hard, but they do get there eventually."

It sounds like the show covers some very intense themes. Were you still able to have some fun during filming?

Matthew Venn (Ben Aldridge), Ross Pritchard (Dylan Edwards) and Jen Rafferty (Pearl Mackie) stand on a beach surrounded by police cordon tape, behind a crime scene investigation tent

DI Matthew Venn (Ben Aldridge), DC Ross Pritchard (Dylan Edwards) and DS Jen Rafferty (Pearl Mackie) attend the crime scene on the beach. (Image credit: ITV)

"Oh my God, I know I sounded very serious — there haven't been many laughs, have there? It is quite a heavy subject matter really, but a day's filming doesn't feel like that, thank God, because there is such a playful vibe — we're having a lot of fun. Me, Pearl [Mackie, who plays DS Jen Rafferty] and Dylan Edwards [DC Ross Pritchard], we just make each other laugh. I'm a bad corpser — if something happens in a scene that is funny, I find it very hard not to laugh. There was a line about a cottage that got changed on set to 'chalet', and for some reason whenever I said 'chalet', they just completely lost it. I don't know what it was, but we just couldn't hold it together for that word!"

  • The Long Call airs from Monday October 25 to Thursday October 28 at 9pm on ITV.