If you’re a fan of costume drama
— which I am — and if you like the British actress Keeley Hawes
— which I do — then the last decade has been kind to you. In that time,
according to my calculations, Hawes has managed to average about one
period piece a year, taking in adaptations of authors from Dickens to
and historical periods from the 1700s to the 1950s. The British film
and television industry being what it is, there’s a lot of competition
for the title of Official Corset Queen — but with her resume, Keeley
is certainly a contender.
It’s not that the former model
doesn’t look good in modern dress.
It’s just that there’s something
about her hazel eyes and pink cheeks, not to mention her gentle manner
and clear speaking voice, that makes her particularly suited to roles
where she has to wear a bonnet.
I first caught sight of her in the
1998 BBC adaptation of Our Mutual Friend, playing the poor waterman’s
daughter, Lizzie Hexam:
Although Dickens has a reputation
for writing feeble female characters, Lizzie is surprisingly kickass
— physically carrying her lover to safety after he has been injured
in an attack.
Next up was another Victorian literary
adaptation, Wives and Daughters, in 1999:
Hawes moved into the 20th century
— 1920s Ireland, to be specific — for the film The Last September
(which also starred Fiona Shaw):
She channeled 1950s glamour for
the Diana Dors biopic The Blonde Bombshell — although most critics
thought that she simply wasn’t trashy enough to play British star
Even her seemingly modern projects
tend to have a period heritage. The 2001 television update of Othello
cast her as Dessie/Desdemona opposite Eamonn Walker — although
it will probably be of most interest to readers of this site for having
provided her first collaboration with Rachael Stirling.
The two actresses would, of course,
be reunited the next year for the lesbian romance Tipping the Velvet.
It was during publicity for Tipping
that Keeley did an intriguing interview with the British lesbian magazine
Diva. Talking about the Sarah Waters adaptation, she said,
"It’s true to
the book. Except for a slight change at the end. And I completely related
to Kitty [her character]. Well not completely, because I’m not a lesbian.
Incomprehensibly, and maddeningly,
the interviewer doesn’t seem to have asked her to elaborate at all
on this statement — the next paragraph of the article goes on to talk
about Rachael Stirling, who was also being interviewed. I have never
seen the subject mentioned in another article, and since Hawes is now
happily married to Keira Knightley’s Pride and Prejudice
costar Matthew Macfadyen, with two children, it seems unlikely
that future journalists will raise it.
Which leaves open the question:
did Hawes seriously identify as bisexual? Does she still? Or was it
a case similar to that of Megan Mullally, who described herself
as bisexual when she was still on Will & Grace, but then
once the show was over?
Perhaps it’s better not to know.
After all, the answer might be disappointing. And in the meantime, I
can go on admiring Keeley in costume dramas like Under The Greenwood
And fans of more modern fare can
admire her as spy Zoe Reynolds in the television series Spooks
(or MI-5, as it is known in the U.S.):
And we can all agree that whether
… she is unquestionably one of
the more beautiful, as well as one of the more talented, actresses around.