'The Cry': Who was Jenna Coleman before she stunned viewers with her powerful performance as Joanna?
As a Queen, as a Time Lord's companion, and as a mother, Jenna Coleman has always given it her best shot.
Jenna Coleman could not stop turning the pages of the script when she first received it for the new BBC 1 psychological thriller, 'The Cry'. Based on Helen Fitzgerald's titular novel, the story follows the young mother, Joanna, who finds herself ensnared by the dark side of motherhood, something she wasn't prepared for, and things get worse when she has to go to Australia with her husband Alistair, played by Ewen Leslie, who wants to regain custody of his 10-year-daughter from his previous marriage. To play such a role, Coleman had to do a lot of preparation, something she seriously does on being cast for any role.
While playing England's most prominent monarch in ITV's periodical drama, 'Victoria', Coleman had maintained just the right amount poise to represent the Queen who was also known as the Empress of India. As the young Victoria who suddenly finds herself with the reins of an entire nation only at the age of eight, Coleman's doll-like face with the naive stare was the perfect fit for the role. However, even while taking up the crown as the Empress, she had to do a lot of research. Coleman had arduously researched on the Queen's personal artifacts that are still kept on public display at the Kensington Palace.
In fact, the actress who was also nominated for the National Television Award for Outstanding Drama Performance for the role, in 2018, had read through Queen Victoria's personal journals since it was necessary for her to know every detail. "You have to use the set creatively. There’s so much life in a palace that we don’t usually see.” However, it was the Queen's paintings which helped Coleman look deeper into the life of the fearless ruler. "The best research material I saw was actually her paintings. Her daughter censored the diaries, but the watercolors really let you see through her eyes. I found one of her governesses, with lots of detail and color, and then one of her mother, which is in silhouette and black.”
Coleman had set out to represent Victoria's life from the time she became a ruler at the age of eighteen, to her intense friendship and infatuation with Lord Melbourne (played by Rufus Sewell). She managed to bring in the softness of Emily Blunt's 2009 docudrama, 'Victoria', and the intrepid spirit of Judi Dench's 1997 indie drama, 'Mrs. Brown'. Although it could have been expected that Coleman's performance would incline more towards Blunt's graceful projection, yet the actress brought out the Queen's sublime glory in just the right amount. Coleman's ability to balance her expression is what makes her performance unique and her attention to "tiny unconscious things of that world" is always laudable.
However, even before the world saw her taking the throne as the Empress, Coleman had to start off with roles that were pretty stereotypical in tone. Born in Blackpool, which she claims, "everyone dismisses as stag-and-hen central, but has a charm you don’t appreciate until you leave", Coleman was always taught to think for herself while acting. As Jasmine Thomas in 'Emmerdale', a role that she landed at just 19, she had already attracted the attention of many but her next big role would not come her way until after almost six years. In between being Jasmine and the Time Lord's love interest, Clara Oswald, Coleman had to be on the lookout for an agent.
Finding a role was difficult because "[she is] northern, and working class, so people put you in a box. It’s crazy.” She was sent out a number of scripts all of which required her to speak in her usual northern accent, "and I’d be pointing out different parts, saying, ‘I think I can do that.’ It took a long time to get any meetings. I had to take a job at a pub in Hampstead.” However, there was no turning back once she was cast as the Doctor's companion. Although the reason behind being cast as Clara was because she could speak faster than her co-star Matt Smith, Coleman's performance in 'Doctor Who' ( alongside both Peter Capaldi and Matt Smith) changed her career forever.
As Clara, she had to deal with the Doctors two incarnations, one the hideously funny Matt Smith's, and the other the more serious and calm Capaldi's. Coleman had surprised the audience as she struck just the perfect balance in her performance with the two actors. Smith's version of the Time Lord required her to be coy, frisky and teasing, but with Capaldi, things had to get consequential and less momentous. The deeply touching relationship between the young Clara and the older Doctor was distinctly played from the maddening, passionate tension between the younger Doctor and Clara.
However, after working for three years (2012-15), the actress finally left the role to work for her career-defining performance in 'Victoria'. She probably always knew that 'Doctor Who' would not last a long time, "It's constantly regenerating, so you want to make your time count and enjoy the adventure for the fleeting time you're here." However, the change certainly was a positive move for Coleman who is right now one of BBC's most beloved actresses, right after Florence Pugh who is earning rave reviews with her performance in the adaptation of John Le Carre's 1983 novel, 'The Little Drummer Girl'.
'The Cry' has probably been the most challenging performance for the actress who won the TV Actress of the Year at Harper Bazaar's 2018 women of the Year awards, where she was hailed by former Doctor Who actor Peter Capaldi for her ‘sensitive character interpretations’ following her own Tardis adventure and her role in The Cry. Coleman has described her role in the Helen Fitzgerald adaptation as "struggling'. Unlike her previous roles which were already written as fictions and nonfiction, Joanna was something new to her in spite of being a character so well explored by the author herself.
She wasn't a queen, a Time Lord's companion, or an ambitious girl staying on the farm. She was nothing larger than life, yet it was her grief which drove her to do things beyond her reach. Coleman had explained, "It's a really interesting way to launch yourself into the drama because you could potentially judge Joanna at the beginning after you see her leave the baby on the floor and shut the door and go into another room. She's not a perfect mum. She's struggling, she doesn't feel very capable and then when the baby goes missing there's another dynamic into the mystery."
Dealing with a subject as sensitive and controversial as postpartum depression, Coleman had some really big responsibility on her shoulders. The show was given the timeslot of BBC's record-breaking show, 'Bodyguard' starring Richard Madden, and it was quite a risk since 'Bodyguard' became the network's highest watched show in over a decade. However, 'The Cry' received an equally warm reception from the viewers, becoming the second most watched show on BBC. 'The Cry' is set to launch on Sundance Now on Thursday, November 8.
Watch the trailer below: