Scott & Bailey: Nicola Walker on playing Helen Bartlett
Episode 5: Wednesday 1 May at 9pm on ITV
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The horror of Helen Bartlett’s (Nicola Walker) childhood memories have finally been revealed in ITV’s drama, Scott & Bailey.
Life is set to take more dramatic turns for the estranged daughter of Joe Bevan (George Costigan) and his now dead wife Eunice in episode five.
Having left her parents and the family home as a teenager 30 years ago, Helen is haunted by the macabre events that took place in the house.
“Helen has had a terrible life. She’s one of the survivors of Peveril Street. But it’s complicated,” explains Nicola.
“I had just one question once we started talking about the character and the storyline: Is Helen guilty or not? Because that’s the only thing you need to play her. How could she escape that house and be innocent?”
Did Nicola feel the need to do her own research for the role?
“I like a bit of research but I tend to rely on the scripts, especially when they’re written by someone like Sally Wainwright - because Sally has done it all already. That’s why she’s brilliant. It’s all there in the script.
“But Red (the production company behind the series) arranged for us to meet a psychologist who had worked with Sally before.
“We had a session with him talking about some really grim but fascinating stuff. He spoke about psychopaths - because Helen’s father is without doubt a psychopath.
“Helen has never been for therapy and never talked to anyone before about what happened to her in that house. I only wanted to know what she knew.
The storyline is one of the darkest ever featured in Scott & Bailey.
“But Sally is not revelling in that. It’s never indulgent or gratuitous with her. For Helen it’s like headlights coming up in the dark, hitting her in the face every time she remembers it.”
Viewers first saw an immaculate Helen in episode one working in the make-up and perfume department of a Manchester department store.
But that smart facade had vanished when D.C. Rachel Bailey (Suranne Jones) later found Helen asleep at home in a drunken stupour during an early morning police raid.
Finally forced to face the childhood trauma she had spent a lifetime trying to forget.
“She’s crashed from a great height. That’s one of the most interesting things about Helen,” says Nicola.
“Helen has created a character to be at work and that has been successful. But then when someone brings Peveril Street back into her consciousness again, it’s like she goes straight back there.
“I think she has some form of post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s so immediate and vivid.
“When they bring the traumatic memories back into her thoughts, she re-experiences it. It’s not just like she remembers it and it’s awful and painful - she’s blocked it so much and buried it so deep that when they bring it back she re-lives it. Hence the crash.
“I’ve never played a character who is so full of shame. It’s an interesting thing to play because it’s an absolutely internal emotion. She’s full of apology. At times she barely raises her eyes to look someone in the eye.”
Lesley Sharp, who plays D.C. Janet Scott, says it’s the biggest investigation ever faced by Syndicate 9 of Manchester Metropolitan Police’s Major Incident Team.
“Thankfully, we were told by the expert that these kind of scenarios are pretty far and few between,” adds Lesley.
“But they still shock and stun officers when they land on their desks, these sort of cases. It’s very high profile and high stakes for the team and a really interesting storyline.”
Amelia Bullmore, who plays D.C.I. Gill Murray, agrees.
“What sets this story apart is that having first scratched the surface of the crime, you then descend quite gradually into a more and more disturbing event.
“The writer Sally Wainwright has created a very compelling character, in the shape of Helen. It is a slow unravelling. Uncovering in every sense of exactly what has gone on.
“We also discover that the police in the first place didn’t do a very good job. People weren’t believed and so, as a result of that, there is an extra poignancy. So mixed in with everything else is a sense of failure.
“Helen is very damaged but has blocked it all out. Scott and Bailey see her very much as a victim of circumstance. While Gill has a more hard line attitude towards her.
“Whether or not they make the right call with Helen is another big part of the story.”