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Victoria Hamilton on Life: ‘I hope I’m not like Belle!’

Victoria Hamilton as Belle in BBC1 drama Life
(Image credit: BBC/Drama Republic)

Victoria Hamilton on the surprises and challenges of reprising her Doctor Foster role in Mike Bartlett's Manchester-set drama Life

When we meet Victoria Hamilton on the set of BBC1 drama Life (opens in new tab) in October 2019, we’re unsure whether to curtsy or simply say, ‘Ma’am.’

Too much? Well, the London-born star is acting royalty having played the Queen Mother in Netflix series The Crown and Queen Victoria in 2001 BBC1 drama Victoria & Albert.

However, it was on stage in 2012 play Love, Love, Love where Victoria first met writer Mike Bartlett, who cast her in his smash-hit BBC1 series, Doctor Foster.

So enthralled by Victoria’s portrayal of Anna, friend and neighbour of GP Gemma (Suranne Jones), Mike decided to bring the character back in his new Manchester-set saga, Life.

But Anna is now calling herself Belle, and in the third episode of Life, she must face up to a ghost from her past.

Here, Victoria Hamilton, 49, talks about revisiting her Doctor Foster role and why she hopes she’s not like Belle…

Were you surprised to be asked to reprise the role of Anna Baker?

Victoria Hamilton: "When Mike sent me the script for Life, I didn’t have a clue that Belle was Anna. I thought the character was wonderful, but I emailed Mike to say that I felt like I knew her. He replied saying, ‘Yes, she is Anna, as in Anna-Belle!’ I thought I’d never play her again so I’m thrilled!"

Victoria Hamilton and Adam James in Doctor Foster

She’s been through a lot since we saw her in Doctor Foster…

VH: "Yes, she was in an unhappy marriage with Neil [Adam James], but she’s now divorced and trying to recreate a life for herself. She’s also looking after her teenage niece, Maya [Erin Kellyman], after her sister, Ruth [Susannah Fielding], ran into trouble. But her family is encroaching on her life in a way she can’t ignore or control."

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Does Belle resent taking care of Maya?

VH: "Belle has created an environment for herself that is so controlled and anal to the point where it’s frightening. Then Maya comes into it like a whirlwind. But while Belle is busy looking after Maya and Ruth’s problems, she’s being less than honest about her own huge demons, which she eventually has to face."

Erin Kellyman as Maya in Life

Erin Kellyman as Belle's teenage niece, Maya

Belle’s ex-husband Neil turns up in episode three. What happens?

VH: "Neil coming back into her life is the last thing that Belle expects. But he also comes back into her life for the very-last reason she expects. So just when she finds herself in a position where she’s totally self-sufficient, she gets pulled back into the past."

Are you similar to Belle at all?

VH: "Oh, I hope not! I think I'm probably very controlled about certain aspects of my life and complete chaos in the others, which I think is a healthy balance, isn’t it? It has been challenging playing someone who’s so emotionally and physically tense all of the time."

Mike Bartlett also cast you in his 2017 play, Albion. You clearly work well together…

VH: "Yes, there’s chemistry. Mike has given me an opportunity to play, what I call, beautiful monsters, which is what I think an awful lot of us are. We don’t get a kick out of watching successful people with perfect lives, do we? We want to watch and say, ‘Thank God you're a mess, too!’"

Aside from revisiting Anna/Belle, what do you like about Life?

VH: "I love the span of generations that Mike has written for, whether it’s people in their 20s or 70s. Throughout all of their stories, there is the same amount of passion, love, loyalty, hope and fear, regardless of their age. Everyone watching will be able to relate to someone in Life."

Life airs on Tuesdays at 9pm on BBC1. Plus all episodes are available on iPlayer.