Keeley Hawes: delectable … and possibly bisexual?


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

Sarah Waters,

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

. 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.

I’m bi.”

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

promptly backpedaled

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


or brunette:

… she is unquestionably one of

the more beautiful, as well as one of the more talented, actresses around.

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