Sarah Parish on her new ITV thriller: 'I’ve never played a role like Bancroft!’

Bancroft Sarah Parish
(Image credit: ITV)

Sarah Parish reveals her delight at playing a twisted and ruthless cop in dark crime thriller Bancroft

Many TV cops have a troubled past, but few are as damaged as Detective Superintendent Elizabeth Bancroft, the brilliant but ruthless officer, played by Sarah Parish, who is at the heart of ITV’s four-part thriller Bancroft. The dedicated cop’s life is turned upside down when a 27-year-old unsolved murder case unveils secrets that she would rather keep hidden…

Here, Sarah Parish tells TV Times what’s in store in her new crime drama Bancroft…

TV Times: What can you tell us about Bancroft?

Sarah Parish “She is very complex woman with a lot of baggage. Something happened 27 years ago and she’s put it behind her and worked her way up the ranks. She’s a great police officer and people like her but suddenly this comes back to haunt her and a certain aspect of her personality resurfaces that has lain dormant, which is quite cutthroat – perhaps literally!”

TVT: How does Bancroft react?

SP “She goes on a journey into semi-madness, she is hugely ambitious and she will not give up and will do anything to get out of this situation. She is very controlling and precise but now she is under enormous pressure and starts to lose control. It becomes a cat and mouse chase between her and her colleague DS Katherine Stevens (Faye Marsay), who initially admires Bancroft, so it is a journey for her too.”

TVT: What was the appeal for you?

SP “It is a real departure for me. I have only ever played one police officer before and Bancroft is a real anti-hero, which I’ve never played before. It is interesting casting because people generally go about me, ‘I like her, she’s nice’, so it has been great because I never get to do stuff like this.”

TVT: How do you think viewers will respond to her?

SP “They might just hate me but I hope not! I think it will divide people because they might end up liking her and wanting her to succeed even though she has done something bad and I like the juxtaposition of that.”

TVT: Did you do any research into playing a cop?

SP “I spoke to a couple of female detective superintendents in Manchester, which was really interesting. I just wanted to know about how they work and what their normal day is. But this is an extreme story and when I told then what Bancroft gets up to they were shocked!”

Girl on the fire: DS Stevens (played by Faye Marsay)

TVT: Have you had any stunt scenes?

SP “Yes, I’ve been covered in bruises. There are a couple of big fight sequences, killings, a firebomb and heists. It’s quite exciting but the fire was frightening because we had to run into a room on fire and try and put it out. The heists were frightening too with all the supporting artists playing the special forces yelling with balaclavas on!”

TVT: There are several flashback scenes to the 1990s, how were they filmed?

SP “It was really interesting and I’ve never seen it done on TV before because we used special effects people. The result doesn’t look like I personally did in the 1990s but it was really amazing. They take you into a studio and film you all the way round while you do different expressions and then they map bits of your body. It makes it feel really stylised and different.”

TVT: You were in the third series of Broadchurch earlier this year, what reaction did you get to it?

SP “People loved Broadchurch. It was such a watercooler show. I loved my massive fight scene with Julie Hesmondhalgh and I loved working with David Tennant because we go back a long way and we’ve now worked together five times. It was nice to be part of such a successful show.”

TVT: Will you miss W1A?

SP “Yes, that’s the only job where I burst into tears when it finished. I just loved doing it. I would run into work so excited because I really liked my character Anna who was really quite a hateable person!”

TVT: You’ve filmed Bancroft in Manchester, is that the first time you have been back there since shooting Cutting It?

SP “It is and I specifically chose to live in the Northern Quarter where we used to film Cutting It so it was a proper trip down memory lane. For Bancroft I lived in an apartment where, from my balcony, I could see the apartment where I met my husband [Cutting It co-star James Murray]. I have very fond memories of that. The makeup lady on Bancroft was also on Cutting It. She said she remembered us all coming straight from a club into work. We were very young and used to go out all the time and had such a good laugh but now I’m in bed by 8.30!”

Bancroft airs from Monday 11th December to Thursday 14th December on ITV at 9pm

Caren Clark

Caren has been a journalist specializing in TV for almost two decades and is a Senior Features Writer for TV Times, TV & Satellite Week and What’s On TV magazines and she also writes for What to Watch.

Over the years, she has spent many a day in a muddy field or an on-set catering bus chatting to numerous stars on location including the likes of Olivia Colman, David Tennant, Suranne Jones, Jamie Dornan, Dame Judi Dench and Sir Derek Jacobi as well as Hollywood actors such as Glenn Close and Kiefer Sutherland.

Caren will happily sit down and watch any kind of telly (well, maybe not sci-fi!), but she particularly loves period dramas like Call the Midwife, Downton Abbey and The Crown and she’s also a big fan of juicy crime thrillers from Line of Duty to Poirot.

In her spare time, Caren enjoys going to the cinema and theatre or curling up with a good book.