Anna Madeley Interview: Skeldale’s Housekeeper & Heart, Mrs. Hall
Actress Anna Madeley discusses her All Creatures Great and Small character, Mrs. Hall—a rare and wonderful exception in an adaptation that largely hews closely to its beloved source material. Discover her insights into the character at heart of the surrogate family, who scrubs floors, does the books, and will step up to help anyone in trouble.
Mrs. Hall is one of only a handful of characters who deviate significantly from the books—she’s younger and much more richly developed. How did you go about creating this character, and what has the experience been like for you? Have you found resistance to or delight with the changes among fans of the books?
Well, when I first heard I was auditioning for the part, I had a look through the books and I couldn’t really find her. Likewise, she doesn’t feature heavily in the series that was on in the ’70s, so I was wondering what the part was going to be. And it was wonderful when I read Ben Vanstone’s script. I loved that he’d taken the spirit of the time and the clues that are in there—when she’s mentioned, there are very specific, small things that you hear about her—and he’d developed that, and created a really wonderful, truthful backstory for the character, and run with it. I think that having the surrogate family at the center of the show was an amazing opportunity to then explore Mrs. Hall’s world: what she does, what she brings to the home, to the veterinary practice—she wears many hats. It enabled a very rich character to exist in the center of it in an exciting way. So that was a lot of fun to read, and it means we’ve got a lot of scope for the future as well. There are lots of ideas that come out of it.
Because the show is also so much about community, I think it allows us to explore that side of the community that bit more, as well. It’s in the books, and it’s in those stories, and so as they adapt those stories, it adds another layer of richness to it. There’s been the odd, occasional tweet of someone saying they were surprised I wasn’t as old as they expected, so I think that for some people, it’s a change, a slightly different image to what they were expecting perhaps. But overall, I think the response has been positive to it, that once they see it in the context of our adaptation, it makes sense to people. And I think she’s such a warm character at the center of it that people have really welcomed her, which I’ve been very grateful for, and really thrilled by.
It was a lot of fun putting her together, working out who she is in the community, who she is at any one moment. Because she does many jobs in that household, you see her doing many different things, and I think we’ll see more of all her different roles as we go on. How we wanted to present her took us a little while to work out. You can go with the traditional Yorkshire woman in her overalls, but then she also answers the door to people, and makes tea, and does the cooking. She does everything from scrubbing the floors to the bookkeeping. And we wanted to express that, in terms of how she looked physically. But that she’s also, really, the heart of that home.
What’s do you like best about Mrs. Hall?
I think her lust for life, really. When you talk about her relationships, she’s an epitome of that community. She’s someone who will step up when you’re in trouble. Whatever it is that she can, she’ll do for you. And I think that nurturing spirit in her, and her emotional courage, her wisdom. But she has wit with it, as well. She’s in a funny spot, in a way—she’s at a point in her life where she’s had her child—but she manages to make a family out of the people she’s around. She’s someone who carves out that community.
And I just love that she’s quite an independent lady. I think it was in [Episode 1] where she hears a noise in the night, and you think, well, she’s in a household with men…But she doesn’t question going downstairs herself, and grabbing the cricket bat, and going out to the shed to see who’s there. I just love that about her, that she just gets on with it and does it: whatever the job is that needs doing, she’ll set herself to try and do it. And she doesn’t always get it right, and she doesn’t always say the right thing, but she’s there and she’s willing and she’s open-hearted.
Like in her dealings with Tristan—she can see he’s getting into trouble, and she’ll try and help him through it. She’s not there wagging a finger, going, “You shouldn’t be drinking whiskey. And who’s this girl hiding in the cupboard?” She helps him through it and eases the water. You see it as James arrives, too, as she helps him through those first tests that the community set him. I think she probably quite enjoys bringing them up and nurturing them, in a way. But helping people along their way is such a part of who she is. One of the things I really love is that they’ve brought the women to the fore, and in relationships, like her one with Jenny Alderson. She’s a young girl who may have different opportunities ahead of her. And seeing someone young have a passion, and helping them work it out, or find what that is, and help them along their way, is exciting to Mrs. Hall.
Her ability to build community and relationships spans the generations. She’s not forgotten what it’s like to fall in love, and get up to mischief, or to not want to go to school—all those things—as much as she knows how to help people when they’re older, in difficult stages of life when things become more complicated. So yeah, it’s essentially her lust for life.
How might her experience in the Wrens (Women’s Royal Navy Service) have shaped Mrs. Hall?
It’s something I want to do a bit more research on. I imagine it was a rather brilliant experience in a way, learning to do jobs that would have been traditionally men’s jobs and feeling that sense of doing something important and helpful. I imagine Mrs. Hall lends to that, absolutely, in that she’s someone who wants to step up and do those things, and have that level of independence. You see that spirit in her that enjoys firing a rifle, and I imagine, driving a car. It would have opened the world up, slightly.
You’ve got the friendships made in that time, which would have been really strong. I think the bond between Dorothy and her is very strong and loving—they’re quite different women, but they share that experience of a time when they were single, and life was all before them, despite the horrors of the war. Those friendships and those skills have been really important in her life, ever since, and also fond memories to look back on.
There’s also the factor of stepping up to a job and taking on responsibility. I’ve always imagined Mrs. Hall as someone who went up the ranks a bit. Taking on the responsibility of looking after other people, and taking charge, I suppose, would also have been a really great experience as a young person, developing a skillset in working with people that would have stood her in good stead. I don’t imagine she stayed at school longer than her mid-teens. She probably has secretarial skills she learned, and has gone out to work. So something that expanded her horizons like the Wrens, I imagine, is part of her backbone.
Can you talk about her wonderful relationship with Siegfried, which has so much humor but also understanding and generosity between them? And was it such fun bring to life with Samuel West?
It’s a lot of fun, that relationship, and it’s wonderfully layered—they’re two people who are essentially single in different ways, and living as employer and employee in a house. And yet, particularly over the course of this series, you’ll see that relationship develop and become more of a friendship, and quite a special sort of cherished relationship.
Siegfried’s been incredibly generous towards Mrs. Hall, taking her in and offering her this opportunity to be independent, at a time when that would have been quite difficult. I think she’s very mindful of that—but I don’t think that stops her from engineering James’s arrival, and pushing for what she knows will be helpful, at the end of the day. Siegfried is such a force to live around—he’s so enthusiastic and passionate and contradictory, so many things. But I think that sense of Siegfried’s essential goodness is something that she tunes in to. I think she can see it in in James—that he’s a really lovely young man and that he’s worth investing in—and I think she sees it in Siegfried: that for all his difficulties, and challenges, and barking, and inability to have conversations, she knows his heart is in the right place. And though he doesn’t know how to do it, he’s trying to do his best for Tristan.
So it’s a lot of fun, playing with that line in their relationship of, you’re an employee, but you’re just going to put your head above the parapet every now and then, and stick your neck out, to make something happen that perhaps is not in your job description. And the way that domestic life brings in those comments about, “Where are the keys?” “Well, they’re where they live!” and “Who’s walking muddy footprints through my kitchen?” That domestic world is part of it, too part of that surrogate family feel.
Sam’s a lot of fun. He brings so much warmth and intelligence and passion to it, and fights for the integrity of keeping as many things true to the 1930s as possible. We just had a lot of fun working on it. Their inability to communicate is as much fun as their ability, really. And who has the power in the dynamic is always a fun game to play with. It’s a lovely relationship that develops really beautifully over the course of the series.
Many a viewer is hoping for a Mrs. Hall/Siegfried romance. Could that ever be in the cards?
I don’t know. I think there is a love there, and there’s a friendship there. But Dorothy’s around, isn’t she? And given the story we’ve got with Mrs. Hall, I think she’s quite enjoying being independent. As a woman who got married and had her child very young and has had difficult times, having a period of time in her life where she can feel some degree of security, and earn her own money, and manage her own life, is quite a lovely experience. She’s surrounded by people she cares about and enjoys her work. So I think it would be quite a step to move away from that, and think about reentering—what do we call it?—the love game, a relationship. It would take her stepping outside of that comfort zone again, to do that. And I think, at the moment, she’s probably in quite a good place in her life.