South Riding


The School Sarah Burton Lydia Holly Midge Carne The Council Mr. Robert Carne Mrs. Beddows Joe Asteil Anthony Staith Alfred Huggins
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Meet the characters and cast
of South Riding

Meet the characters of the tightly-knit community of South Riding and get brief biographies on the actors who portray them. Also, download a PDF characters guide to use as you watch.

Sarah Burton

Returning from London to her birthplace, South Riding, the fiery young headmistress brings modern ideas and an ambition to reform to the girls' school and its community. But her principles come from a place of loss, and beneath her confident exterior lies a vulnerable and flawed woman navigating the messy reality of life.

Played by:
Anna Maxwell Martin

The daughter of two scientists, Anna Maxwell Martin studied history at Liverpool University before attending the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. She has since built up a resume of noteworthy performances on stage, including her breakthrough role as Lyra in His Dark Materials and Sally Bowles in Cabaret. In film, she has appeared in Ian McEwan's Enduring Love, and on television, as Esther Summerson in Masterpiece's Bleak House.

The filming of South Riding gave Maxwell Martin the opportunity to return to Yorkshire, where she grew up. "I felt compelled to do South Riding. I spent my childhood on those beaches and felt nobody else should be allowed to do it." Maxwell Martin and partner Roger Michell (director of Notting Hill) have a daughter.

Lydia Holly

The eldest child of a large impoverished family living in a railway car in The Shacks, Lydia is a gifted student of enormous passions held prisoner by her economic circumstances. When she starts on scholarship at Sarah Burton's school, she finds a mentor in the new headmistress.

Played by:
Charlie May-Clark

Yorkshire-born child actor Charlie May-Clark attends West Leeds School for Performing Arts where she is studying dance and working towards a performing arts diploma. South Riding marks her television -- and Masterpiece -- debut and reunites her with Katherine McGolphin, with whom she appeared in the 2008 feature film, Clubbed.

Midge Carne

Fourteen-year-old Midge Carne has never been to school; her father prefers to shelter the high-strung, troubled girl, putting her education in the hands of governesses. But when he eventually decides to send her to the local school, the snobbish, skittish girl begins a tenuous transformation under Sarah Burton's wing.

Played by:
Katherine McGolpin

Child actor Katherine McGolpin hails from Wetherby, a market town in the heart of Yorkshire. She attends the Leeds Television Workshop, which develops and trains young actors for stage and screen. First noticed when she was cast as Jade Calvert in the British television series Emmerdale Farm, McGolpin has since appeared in the 2008 feature film Clubbed, where she met Charlie May-Clark, her co-star in South Riding.

Robert Carne

A brooding gentleman farmer rooted in a troubled past, Robert Carne initally seems arrogant and regressive. But he soon reveals himself to be a complex man desperate to protect his fragile daughter, his cherished way of life, and secrets which shame him to the core.

Played by:
David Morrissey

Actor, director and writer David Morrissey hails from Liverpool, where he began acting in the Everyman Youth Theatre. He launched his onscreen career in 1983 in the gritty television series One Summer then went on to graduate from London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He has performed with England's Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre, among others. His numerous film, television and stage credits include roles in the Masterpiece productions Murder on the Orient Express, Sense & Sensibility and Our Mutual Friend. He can count Lucien Freud and Sigmund Freud as relations after marrying his long-time partner, the novelist Esther Freud, in 2006; the couple has three children. Morrissey owns a film production company in Liverpool and still performs with the Everyman Youth Theatre today.

Mrs. Beddows

As South Riding's first alderwoman on the City Council, Mrs. Beddows is a progressive woman whose politics are somewhat tempered by experience. She is an ally to Sarah Burton and a dear part of the Carnes' inner circle, sharing her strength with those desperately in need of it.

Played by:
Penelope Wilton

Starring alongside Maggie Smith in Masterpiece's 2011 Downton Abbey, Penelope Wilton has long commanded respect for her work as an actress on stage and on screen, earning an Order of the British Empire (OBE) for her service to drama in 2004. Born in England, she attended London's Drama Centre and has been acting since the early 1970s. Wilton's first love was the stage, and among the many honors for her stage work, Wilton has twice won the London Critics' Circle Award for Best Actress. Besides Downton Abbey, Wilton has appeared in several Masterpiece productions including Country Matters, The Tale of Beatrix Potter, Wives and Daughters and Lucky Jim. Other notable film and television projects include The Borrowers, Iris, Calendar Girls, Shaun of the Dead, Match Point and Doctor Who.

Anthony Snaith

The land developer Anthony Snaith seeks to abolish the slums of Yorkshire, mowing down "the Shacks" and developing safe, modern, and sanitary housing for the poor. But unlike those of his ally Joe Astell, Snaith's motives are dubious and his moves manipulative, as he seeks to personally profit from the deal at whatever human cost necessary.

Played by:
Peter Firth

Peter Firth was born in Yorkshire, close to where South Riding is set. The child of two pubowners, he initially joined a local theater group because of a crush he had on one of its female members. His flair for the dramatic arts was recognized, however, and after leaving school at 16, he became established as a child actor, amassing various television and film credits. His big break came with a stage role in the National Theater production of Equus in London. He later reprised this role in the movie version and won a Golden Globe, among other awards, for his performance. His numerous television and film credits include the popular British spy series MI-5 and Pearl Harbour (2001), as well as Masterpiece's Country Matters and Me & Mrs. Jones. Firth is married and has four children.

Joe Astell

A veteran of the Great War, Joe Astell sits on the council as a voice of reform, working to transform the lives of the poor by bringing sanitary, modern housing to the slums of South Riding. Like Sarah, he carries invisible wounds of the war and shares a deep commitment to making the world a better place. In her, he finds an ally and quite possibly, more.

Played by:
Douglas Henshall

Known to Masterpiece fans for his roles in productions such as Anna Karenina and Collision, Douglas Henshall has appeared in an array of productions including the British television series Primeval and the feature films The Eagle (2011) and Dorian Gray (2009).

Born in Glasgow, Scotland, he intended to be a sports commentator and didn't begin acting until age 17, when he joined the Scottish Youth Theatre while still in school. He trained at Mountview Theatre School in London, and then at the 7:84 Theatre Company back in Glasgow. He has received critical acclaim for his stage performances including The Coast of Utopia, The Crucible, and Death of a Salesman. Henshall is married to Croatian writer Tena Stivicic, and has collaborated with her on several projects including the radio version of her play, Fragile! He remains a football enthusiast, a fan of Scotland's St. Mirren team.

Alfred Huggins

A man of the cloth and a genuine advocate of the poor, Alfred Huggins is the embodiment of the age-old dilemma which St. Augustine articulated so well in his Confessions, paraphrased as "Let me be good, Lord, but not yet." His lust for young Bessie Warbuckle leaves him tormented and vulnerable to unscrupulous predators.

Played by:
John Henshaw

English actor John Henshaw grew up with eleven brothers and sisters in the working class community of Ancoats, Manchester's "Little Italy". He came to acting at the age of 40 after having worked a multitude of jobs from van driver to milkman, street sweeper and refuse collector. Since then he has made a name for himself with roles in numerous British film and television productions including Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1974. In 2009, Henshaw won the British Independent Film Award for best supporting actor in the film Looking for Eric. A Manchester City football fan, Henshaw lives in Oldham, Greater Manchester, where he is chairman of 24:7, an initiative that promotes new writing, and where he can occasionally be found singing with a folk group in local pubs. South Riding is his first Masterpiece performance.

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