Harry and Jack Williams started writing Angela Black before Covid-19, when we had no idea of how a national lockdown would change our lives.
But the captivating new drama, which explores the issue of domestic abuse through the eyes of a woman whose life appears idyllic, now feels even more pertinent, following horrifying statistics reflecting a rise in domestic violence during the pandemic.
According to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, between April and December last year, they logged a 34 per cent increase in calls and contacts, compared to the same period in 2019.
“Being in an abusive relationship and being literally stuck inside with that person, I can’t imagine the terror and fear that that brings,” says Yorkshire-born Joanne Froggatt, who takes on the titular role in Angela Black. “Jack and Harry have written a very timely story and an important story.”
The Downton Abbey star, who is also known for Liar, which the Williams brothers were behind too, notes: “It would be amazing if somebody out there sat there and went, ‘This makes me feel less alone’.”
The six-part series is set in suburban London, where Angela lives with her two sons and charming husband, Olivier (Game Of Thrones star Michiel Huisman).
A former professional pianist, the mum spends her days volunteering at a dogs’ home, and it seems like a lovely life, although, as we heartbreakingly realise very early on in the first episode, Angela is a victim of domestic abuse at the hands of Olivier (poignantly, we don’t see the violence, but hear her cries and screams).
“I would describe his behaviour as extremely manipulative,” says Dutch actor Huisman.
“As an actor, you must always try and find a way into your character, and the biggest challenge for me was to try and understand where all his anger stems from and how I could possibly relate to that.”
The abuse began after the birth of their first son, and we learn Angela has threatened to leave Olivier before. But she loves him, and he’s the father of her children, so she stays, and is forced to finds ways to cover up her injuries.
Where Angela Black becomes a twisty thriller is the appearance of Ed, played by Samuel Adewunmi.
A private investigator, he comes to Angela with some terrifying truths and secrets about her deceitful, controlling husband.
But Angela is cautious of Ed, unsure whether to trust him straight away. “Why would you?” says Adewunmi. “A stranger turns up to your house in the middle of the night, he’s been following you all day and tells you your husband is this person you don’t know…
“I think Ed acts as a sliver of hope for her, to escape the torment that she’s going through with Olivier,” adds the rising star, who has also appeared in the 2019 film, The Last Tree.
For Froggatt, the TV series brings another starring role. Though her path to success has been an unusual one.
She was born and brought up in the village of Littlebeck in North Yorkshire where her parents, Ann and Keith, started a rare breed sheep farm on a smallholding near Whitby.
It was in Downton Abbey where she played Anna Bates, the maid to Lady Mary Crawley, that Froggatt really made her name. She not only got nominated twice for an Emmy Award, but made it into the big time with a Golden Globe for best supporting actress.
It’s all a long way from Littlebeck – a small village on the Whitby road – where she grew up and where, from an early age, she realised that she wanted to act. “I knew what I wanted to do before I could pretty much string comprehensible words together,” she told The Yorkshire Post in 2017.
“Since neither mum nor dad have any connection with the stage, but I was really determined and went from joining a drama group in Scarborough to the Redroofs Theatre School in Maidenhead.”
After training, Froggatt first made her mark in 1996 in Coronation Street, playing the teenage mum Zoe Tattersall, and, when that role got written out, she enjoyed several TV roles before Downton came calling.
Which brings us back to the present day. Discussing what we can expect from her character as the series progresses, she says: “She really does go on a huge journey that breaks her world apart and breaks her sense of self apart.
“Everything that she believes her life to be changes, and she almost has to fall apart to rebuild herself back to where she’s supposed to be.”
The most challenging part of this role for the lead star was “keeping the level of intensity and emotion for such an elongated period of time”.
“I was in pretty much all of the time, and when I’ve got to do really emotional stuff, I’m listening to music, because I can’t just laugh and joke and then burst into tears,” she recalls of being on set.
While he is playing a dark character, Huisman, who is also known for comedy-drama The Flight Attendant, reveals he tried to lean into Olivier’s charm during filming.
“Secretly I hoped that, for a little while, the audience would think, ‘Is it really that bad? They do have a nice life together’ and I think that puts the audience in a terrible position once they really realise that, yes, he is that bad,” he elaborates.
“I thought that would be a great challenge, to play a character that is mean, controlling, possessive, gaslighting his wife, but at the same time, he seemed so charming on the outside.”
What makes Angela Black such chilling viewing is that domestic violence is sadly far too common and, as Froggatt suggests, “could be happening in the house next door, or possibly, in your own house. That is what is so unnerving about it, and what really stuck with me.”
So, she hopes that viewers will also be left thinking about “Angela’s situation and how people are affected by these issues, and possibly not being as dismissive about them as they were before, or possibly just being a bit more open to checking in on a friend or making sure they are treating people the way they should be treated.”
Adewunmi echoes this sentiment when asked what he thinks audiences will take away from the show. “I hope that it teaches people to just question things a little bit more and try and be there for people,” he says.
“I guess in that sense, what I find most compelling about the show is that it just feels so real.”
He adds: “I think it’s brave of Harry and Jack to go ahead and write a story like this, something that could be very triggering for people.
“But at the same time, it may also be something that people find educational. It shines a light on something that happens behind closed doors and in the shadows.”
Angela Black airs on ITV from this coming Sunday.
From Yorkshire to screen fame
Joanne initially joined a drama group in Scarborough and then left her family home at the age of 13 to attend the Redroofs Theatre School in Berkshire.
In 1996, she made her TV debut in the long-running ITV drama The Bill, and shortly afterwards landed the role of teenage mother Zoe Tattersall in Coronation Street.
In 2013 she became an ambassador for global children’s charity Plan UK’s Because I Am a Girl campaign, which was set up to give girls an equal opportunity to boys.
She has said previously that she enjoys playing challenging women. “There’s so much more meat for an actress to get her teeth into. I don’t mean being totally and constantly evil, that would be one-dimensional and very boring.”