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The restless life of Hayley Atwell


Hayley Atwell

That's so rock 'n' roll", observes Hayley Atwell cheerily when I tell her that the room we had been loaned at a private club is no longer available because Suggs a member, unlike us, and therefore unmoveable — is in there, snoozing on the sofa. In contrast to the Madness frontman, Atwell arrives looking bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, despite jet-lag and twisting her knee while out jogging, her brown eyes and honeyed skin off-set by a carefully-chosen-that-morning, she says, red chemise. She's up for anything that Immo, the photographer, suggests. "Let's have some fun," she tells him.

"I can't imagine it if beauty was the only currency I used as an actress," she says later. "It just doesn't interest me. I remember there was an opportunity when I was younger to model. I went to Storm modelling agency and the woman just went 'I think you'd be really bored'. Not to say I haven't met incredibly bright models but I'd feel very, very restless."

Thus providing me with a neat segue, for Restless happens to be the title of her latest project, a three-hour BBC adaptation (showing in two parts) of William Boyd's Second World War spy novel that is showing over Christmas. Boyd's period page-turner tells of the covert British operation to persuade America to join the struggle against Hitler, Atwell playing Eva Delectorskaya, a Russian emigre in pre-war Paris who is recruited for the British Secret Service.

The story is split between the war years and the long hot summer of 1976, when young Oxford language tutor Ruth Gilmartin (played by Downton Abbey's Michelle Dockery) discovers that her mother, Sally, is in fact the aforementioned Eva Delectorskaya. Charlotte Rampling plays the older Eva.

"I was delighted to play a younger Charlotte Rampling," says Atwell, 30. "I've spent a little time with her socially and I've worked with her twice before — in The Duchess, and on this independent film, I, Anna, which her son (Barnaby Southcombe) wrote and directed. She'd suggested me to play her daughter — we're kind of merging."

This will also be the second time in two years that Atwell has embodied a 1940s William Boyd protagonist, having been Logan Mountstuart's second wife and the love of his life, Freya, in Channel 4's Bafta-winning version of Any Human Heart. Her career began rapidly after leaving drama school in 2005, with the part of the bipolar, self-harming Catherine Fedden, in Andrew Davies's BBC2 adaptation of Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty, before becoming Woody Allen's latest muse in his London-set 2007 drama, Cassandra's Dream.

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