Nothing says Christmas quite like a Cumbrian chocolate box cottage, surrounded by farm animals and lightly dusted with snow.
Despite appearances, the quaint setting for new Sky original drama Roald & Beatrix: The Tail Of The Curious Mouse isn’t quite what it seems.
Evoking childhood memories this festive season, filming for the magical tale in fact took place at a Welsh cottage in the middle of August, overcoming restrictions imposed by the current pandemic – as well as the seasonal weather.
Based on the moment a six-year-old Roald Dahl meets his writing hero Beatrix Potter, the drama brings together stop-motion animation and live-action footage, with Dawn French, 63, stepping into the shoes of Beatrix Potter alongside a host of famous faces.
Created by Coma Girl writer Abigail Wilson and produced by Elaine Cameron, Roald & Beatrix features a host of household names, including Jessica Hynes, Rob Brydon, Alison Steadman, Nick Mohammed, Nina Sosanya and Bill Bailey.
Ahead of Roald & Beatrix: The Tail Of The Curious Mouse airing this Christmas, we discover more about what to expect from star Dawn French.
How did you first get involved in Roald & Beatrix?
“I worked with the writer Abi Wilson years and years ago; she was a PA for Jennifer (Saunders) and me. She’s a wonderful person.
“She came to me with this idea about Beatrix Potter she had been working on with the producers at Hartswood and I just thought, ‘Yeah, okay’, and they took it to Sky and it grew and grew.”
There must be some fond memories involving Abigail, Jennifer and yourself over the years?
“One of the reasons she got the PA job with us in the first place was because she was an RAF child like Jennifer and me. When you have a kind of a nomadic childhood where you’re constantly moving, you have an affinity with other people who’ve had a similar experience, and it’s quite hard to explain to people who haven’t had that.
“When Abi came along to interview for the job, and she told us that, she had the job right there. So she came to help us run the company and get us into shape, make sure we were all in the same room at the right time, run lines with us, remember props.
“She came on tour with us sometimes as well. She’s just a brilliant, sunny person. She was just a baby then but she’s a grown-up now and a brilliant writer.”
Can you tell us a bit about the Roald & Beatrix story?
“Beatrix Potter is writing about the tale about three blind mice and she’s wondering if anyone is taking her seriously; whether the publishers are just making money off her and don’t care what she writes.
“She’s losing her eyesight and she’s wondering what her life has become. She’s resisting having to wear glasses, but she needs to be able to see for the pictures she’s drawing.”
And then she meets Roald Dahl?
“The key moment is this little boy runs into her garden, and that is the six-year-old Roald Dahl, dressed in a very interesting little blue jacket, looking like Peter Rabbit.
“His father has died, his sister has died, and he’s feeling very sad so he goes to visit Beatrix’s house. From her point of view he’s just a pesky boy in her garden, one of many children that came and bothered her.”
Despite their differences, do Roald and Beatrix find common ground?
“The beautiful thing about them is that they’re living parallel lives: they couldn’t be more different, really, at different stages, but there’s this beautiful moment where they come together which changes both of them in different ways.
“Meeting Roald gives Beatrix a bit of confidence. From something he says, she realises something quite profound and carries on to a life of writing more brilliant books for children.”
Were you a fan of Beatrix Potter prior to getting on board with the project?
“Oh yes. I remember having Beatrix Potter books in my bedroom as a child and loving the pictures. I’ve actually revisited Beatrix in my life before.
“I had to revisit those distant memories when Jennifer and I played Porcas and Dorcas in a film called Little Pig Robinson (in 1990) which was adapted from a Beatrix Potter book. We had to dress as pigs and yes, that did involve wearing prosthetics before you say anything cheeky, thank you!”
How did you find filming under Covid-19 restrictions?
“I had a very strange moment on set with Rob (Brydon) where we have to hug each other, and it was very good because I hadn’t hugged people for so long. Even my own husband is a key worker so we were being very careful with physical contact for those first few months.
“So to be hugging this other guy was so odd. It was in the script and we were all being tested so it was okay to do, and it felt wonderful because I hadn’t touched anybody for so long!”
- Watch Sky original Roald & Beatrix: The Tail of The Curious Mouse this Christmas Eve at 8pm on Sky One and streaming service NOW TV