Beckinsale is an actress who never looks anything other than immaculate – be it on the red carpet, working out or chilling at home – as her two million Instagram followers can testify. But in The Widow’s opening sequence, she’s make-up free, frumpily dressed with no sign of her signature blow-dry as her character, Georgia, tramps across moody moorland clutching a dead rabbit. Right away, we know this is a woman who’s happier hunting for dinner than she is nipping to the nearest Waitrose.
Shortly afterwards, there’s a flashback to the morning she waved her husband Will off on what would be his final work trip. No sooner had he turned and walked towards the plane in slow motion than news of his doomed flight filtered through. Back in the present day, Georgia’s existing off-grid when she spots a figure she recognises in a news report about the Congo. It’s not just his profile that catches her attention, but a distinct cap Will always insisted on wearing. It’s enough to make Georgia hop on a plane to Africa in the hope of finding out what really happened to him.
“In the first couple of scripts, Georgia appeared to be this rather mysterious and fairly tortured figure,” says Kate, explaining what drew her to the project. “You could tell she was fragile but also displayed strength and courage. And you didn’t fully understand how all of that fitted together. I found that very intriguing.”
The Widow was written by brothers Harry and Jack Williams, who’ve also penned thrillers such as The Missing, Baptiste, Liar and Rellik. They’re known for interlacing extensive strands and subplots as the drama edges towards a climactic finale. Along the way there’s often multiple time frames, as well as ambitious filming locations that gives their work an epic feel. The Widow is no different.
The story moves from the UK to the Congo via Rotterdam in the Netherlands, where we meet the blind Ariel Helgason (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson), the only known survivor from Will’s plane crash. His story is just one of those that interweaves with Georgia’s. Other characters include the widowed journalist Emmanuel Kazadi (Jacky Ido), the mysterious Pieter Bello (Bart Fouche), Georgia’s godfather Martin Benson (Charles Dance) and Will’s former business partner Judith Gray (Alex Kingston), as well as the child militia of the Democratic Republic of Congo.“One of our characters is a little girl who has been taken away from her family by the militia, so there’s quite a lot about what is happening politically,” says Kate. “So, it deals with a woman’s grief and her picking her way out of that. It also looks at deception in a lot of different forms. Trying to uncover physical and emotional truths. Also, a big character is Africa itself.”
The story was inspired by Harry Williams’ fiancée, who was widowed and wrote a blog about her experiences. “That area felt like something that was interesting. An emotional way in,” he explains. “We do thrillers. That’s what we’re more known for. And the idea of using that emotional jumping off point and blending in a conspiracy thriller felt like a really interesting marriage.”
It was Jack, however, who thought the Congo would make a captivating setting – although it was actually filmed in South Africa for logistical and safety reasons. “I’d done some reading about the Congo and found it fascinating, a place of contradictions that not a lot of people know about, so it always stuck with me,” he says. “Then when Harry started talking about this character, we discussed what would be the most interesting combination and the two ideas fused together. We started to come up with a story taking Georgia to this place and really putting her through the wringer emotionally. It just felt a really good fit.”
Described as a conspiracy thriller “with a big emotional heart”, the brothers’ hope The Widow leaves the viewer with “some food for thought about the world we live in and the way we choose to exploit our natural resources.” Jack continues: “It’s quite a sprawling complex story. What’s exciting is by the final hour you hopefully feel that the journey which seemed at times to be going off at a tangent, actually marries up and adds up in the end.”
There’s no doubting the ambition of the piece, or the amount of money that must have been spent producing it. There’s a stellar cast, big themes and Beckinsale looking entirely at home in the action sequences – no surprise given the gun-toting years she devoted to the Underworld franchise. On the downside, the plot isn’t without flaws with implausible scenarios as the drama progresses (not least Georgia’s ability to maintain a pompadour ponytail in the most testing of circumstances) and the script can be stilted at times. However brush these small faults aside and revel in the escapism. The heroine of this piece isn’t waiting for anyone to save her and there’s everything to love about that.
The Widow begins on ITV on Monday 8th April 2019
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