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Dame Harriet Walter on The End: ‘It confronts uncomfortable things’

The End

Dame Harriet Walter and Frances O’Connor tell us how Sky Atlantic's bold new comedy-drama, The End, takes a wry look at death

Dame Harriet Walter and Frances O'Connor star in hard-hitting yet fantastically funny comedy-drama The End, which follows three generations of one family who all have varying obsessions with death.

The first of 10 half-hour episodes introduces us to depressed widow Edie Henley (The Crown’s Dame Harriet Walter), who, after a disastrous suicide attempt, is forced to leave her quiet English village and go live with her daughter, Kate Brennan (Frances O’Connor, star of BBC1’s The Missing), and grandchildren in Australia.

On arrival, Edie discovers she’s being shipped off to a nearby retirement village on the Gold Coast, while Kate – a doctor specialising in palliative care – is preoccupied with a patient who is contemplating euthanasia.

Meanwhile, Kate’s children are grappling with their own existences, especially her eldest, transgender teenager Oberon (Morgan Davies), who has also attempted to take his own life.

We chatted to Dame Harriet Walter, 69, and Frances O'Connor, 52, to find out more about their bold comedy, The End, which tackles the usually taboo subjects of euthanasia and suicide…

What can you tell us about Edie and Kate?

Harriet Walter: "Edie is quite self-centered, but I was looking for a character around my age like this – a woman who is not a stereotype or defined by her family. She has many facets." Frances O'Connor: "I love Kate. She’s so complicated, conflicted and messed up, but that’s so human. She’s always spinning plates and spreads herself thin, but I think a lot of women feel that pressure."

The End

Kate with her kids, Oberon and Persephone

Their mother-daughter relationship is rather strained, isn’t it?

HW: "Edie has always found it hard to express love, or feel loved. She had her children because it was her duty; you don’t get the impression that she delights in them. She’s damaged, but there are flashbacks that reveal why." FO: "Their relationship is tenuous. Kate is living with the past trauma of growing up with Edie, but at the same time, her husband, Christopher [Game of Thrones’ Brendan Cowell], is in prison for embezzlement and she also feels she hasn’t done a great job with her kids. She’s got a lot going on!"

How do they deal with Oberon’s attempt on his life?

FO: "Kate has been sober for two years. The last time she drank was when Oberon attempted suicide, so that’s hanging in the air and Kate spends a lot of time trying to get Oberon’s approval." HW: "There are parallels with Edie and Oberon. Edie is rediscovering herself and trying to accommodate a new person, although in a different way to Oberon. Edie is also a bit of an adolescent!"

It’s surprising to see real laugh-out-loud moments in a show about death. Is that what appealed to you about The End?

HW: "Yes, it was a fabulous script. The subject is dealt with humanely and humorously, and it isn’t frightened of confronting some very uncomfortable things." FO: "I’m sure the series will ruffle a few feathers. People don’t want to spend time contemplating death, but the series is thought-provoking as well as real and funny."

Frances, you were raised in Perth, was it nice to be back Down Under?

FO: "It was so nice to be back working at home. Also, the sunny setting also helped break up the intensity of the heavy subject matter. It definitely took the edge off!" HW: "Yes, people may think they’re watching Neighbours!"

Has The End challenged your views on the right-to-die debate?

FO: "I was curious to see how I would feel at the end of filming and I’m still conflicted. It’s a very complicated issue, and it’s hard to legislate something that’s so personal. It comes down to the individual." HW: "It’s something you increasingly think about as you approach old age, and I have discussed it with my husband, [American actor Guy Paul]. I just hope the show gets people talking because I’ve never seen anything like The End. It’s about a very serious, complicated, moral issue, and you don’t know what’s going to happen next."

All 10 episodes of The End will be available on Monday 10 February on Sky Box Sets/Now TV