Miss Scarlet and The Duke Insights & Teasers from Creator Rachael New
Will Miss Scarlet and The Duke fans ever get to see a kiss between Eliza and William? In a conversation with MASTERPIECE, show creator and head writer Rachael New hints about just such a thing; discusses Eliza and Nash, drops a Season 3 tease; shares insights about Miss Scarlet‘s main character and creator as women; and takes us behind the scenes of filming and writing Season 2 of Miss Scarlet and The Duke.
In Episode 1, we learned that Eliza and William had been dining together as their friendship was becoming more romantic. Have you imagined what might have happened at those dinners? Are they gazing across the table at each other? I’m thinking candlelight, bickering…
Yes. I do imagine, that’s how sad I am—I do imagine these things. They’re very real to me, Eliza and Duke, so all of the periods of time, whether it’s between the seasons or the episodes, I do fill those in, in my mind. I really like the idea of sometimes…giving the audience some credit, to go, “I don’t have to explain everything. I don’t have to show everything. Sometimes you can have that reported action.” It makes it feel like more of a real world.
Yes, they’ve been out for dinner. We don’t have to have closeups of them and candlelight and her gazing at him. Although in answer to your question, they wouldn’t have sat there gazing at each other. They probably had a really nice time, and then probably the goodbye would’ve been slightly awkward because they’ve been friends for a very long time, so even the finger touching in Episode 1 was very kind of intimate—deliberately so. So yes, I definitely imagine what they were like at dinner. I think when we join them in Episode 1, had things been slightly different with the case, probably we would’ve built to some kind of kiss. But it’s just too early for that, so…
Are we getting something of a Western vibe in Season 2?
Yes, and we tried to sort of go that way a little bit in Season 1. Our original theme music was quite Western-y and we kind of toned it down a little bit. [For our Season 2 set]…we rebuilt Eliza’s street, we actually built out Scotland Yard, and then our Market Street, but we also built a slum street that didn’t exist on our backlot [for Season 1]. And our slum street, which you’ll see bits of, does look quite Western-y. I quite liked that sort of vibe. I think it’s a bit rougher, a bit edgier, this season with our locations. And also some of our music has got a bit of a twang to it, as well. When you meet Nash, he’s got that kind of twang thing going on. And I’ve said this before, but I used to watch all the old Spaghetti Westerns with my dad. I just loved all the Clint Eastwood Westerns—I just think they’re cool—so that’s probably in there somewhere as well.
It feels especially so in that terrific scene at the end of Episode 4, where Eliza is left on her doorstep after her encounter with Nash. It’s almost like there’s a whooshing of wind against the quiet of the background, which reminds one of a Western.
Yeah, that’s one of my favorite scenes. He climbs up the steps to her, and yeah, there’s that twang. What I loved about that…was how, when he [leaves], he sucks the air out of her. He sucks the color out of everything and just leaves her standing there, going, “Oh dear, I’ve got a real problem now.” And I think it’s such an effective way of doing it.
That day was so windy, it was insane, because on our backlot, there’s the front of her house, and opposite it is Scotland Yard. And the wind in November…just races through—it’s like a wind tunnel. So I was really worried about the audio, but they cleaned it up really well. You can still hear it, but I think it works really well.
Felix [Scott, the actor playing Patrick Nash] is just so clever. He’s almost like a male version of Kate. He rocks up, he just knows his stuff. It’s very rare that he does a tape where I don’t just go, “That’s brilliant. Do we need to even go again?” Which is what she’s like. And I like their chemistry. It’s ironic that she doesn’t trust him, and yet he’s the one that will scream from the rooftops how amazing she is.
We’ll get to know Nash more in Season 3. [Audiences are] quite split on him. Some people are going, “I really like him,” and then some people are going, “I don’t trust him.”…Who knows what the future’s going to hold?…But at the moment, in Season 2, he just thinks she’s exceptional, and he is an opportunist and he wants to have that USP [unique selling point] that he’s got the first female detective working for him. I like that about him, right? That’s what this is about for him. And I like the fact that he is the only one that will say to her, “You’re brilliant,” and she still can’t quite accept that and trust him. It’s an interesting dynamic between them.
An interesting aspect of Eliza’s character is that while she’s so positive and upbeat, she often has this little edge where she’s almost trying to fight back a clipped, impatient tone. Can you speak to this edginess?
So there is a slight edge to her, especially when she wants to get her way. But she’s super smart and she does have to operate in these constraints, so she has to do everything that she can. And I’ve said this before, but I just wanted her to be flawed. I wanted her to be somebody that you can relate to. And she is impatient, she’s impetuous, she can be judgemental. She can be too swift to make decisions. But what I love about her is that she does have that vulnerability to go, “I’ve made a mistake.” I spend my life apologizing and going, “Oh, sorry, I should have…” I think there is something relatable about that.
And I think Kate delivers that so beautifully, because on the outset she is immaculate and she’s got this kind of icy blonde hair and she could come across as actually quite unrelatable. But there is a vulnerability about her and I think it comes on the screen, because you see her struggles and you see what she wants. And you see that, to her, Duke is this mirror, in that they’re roughly the same age, [but] he can walk into any room in any kind of social strata; he’s a man that’s listened to. She knows she’s probably better at her job than him, and it’s just like, life is unfair. And I think that’s why we forgive her.
Also, I’ve seen too many shows where the woman is the one that’s eye-rolling all the time, and the man gets all the great lines. She is sneaky, and she will manipulate, and you think, “Well, good for you.” If you’ve got to get what you’ve got to get, you’ve just got to throw everything that you can at it. And that’s why we get that lovely kind of humor. She’s really fun to write for—I love writing for Eliza. She’s a really funny character. I remember Declan O’Dwyer, our first director, said she’s like Indiana Jones—she kind of stumbles into these situations. And she does! So I hope people relate to her. I think they do—I think they find her quite human.
So many of the cases reflect a woman’s place in Victorian society. Was that intentional, or in the course of writing good mysteries, it just happened that way?
I like people to think it just happened that way, but no, it’s very calculated. I don’t want to hit people over the head with it, I don’t want to spoon-feed the audience, because I think that would be really patronizing. But I think people are interested in how things were different for women. And also, the premise is “a woman in a man’s world”—we don’t want to make people bored and tired of it. There’s only so many times someone can go, “You’re a what?” when she says, “I’m a detective.” But that is the show, and so I do like to keep that running. As the season goes on, there’s probably a bit less of that. But generally, even if it’s just one line of dialogue, there’s always the reminder that this isn’t now, this is the 1880s, and she’s struggling; she’s got lots of obstacles to overcome.
I’m curious if there was ever a professional space where you had to break in and face challenges because you’re a woman, and did you draw from that in any way, if so, for Eliza?
Oh, absolutely. She’s fueled by my frustrations and my aspirations, my hopes, my dreams, everything. I mean, I always say that obviously there’s a huge part of me in Eliza. I feel like people have resonated with her and relate to her and I think it’s because she’s based on that kind of truth that lots of us have been through. But Kate now embodies her so much for me that, when I write for her, Kate’s very much in the forefront of my mind. Obviously, there’s still stuff from my own life or from my female friends or family, but I think it’s more about now I see Eliza and that’s Kate for me.
I have to say, I’ve very rarely worked with people that I haven’t liked, I think I’ve been incredibly lucky and I’ve worked with some really, really lovely people on lots of different shows. But yes, comedy’s hard to work in as a woman, and there were times where—and I think it’s probably a mixture of tricky writers’ rooms, and feeling heard, but then again, I think it was maybe a lack of confidence—but nevertheless, there were times where I felt a bit ignored or not quite heard, and I definitely fueled that into Eliza. And at school as well, and growing up. I was the youngest of four, and so there’s definitely a thing where I don’t like being ignored. I was quite introverted, really. I wouldn’t say I’m very, like, “Laaaa!!!” But I feel like if you’ve got something to say and you really feel that somebody isn’t listening, that’s kind of frustrating. And I would put that down to a lot of the times in my life, in certain professional situations, being because I’m a woman. …So Eliza is definitely fueled by my passions and what I wanted. Definitely.
Writing for her character must be such a delight. Can you ever imagine creating another character in your whole career that’s as fantastic as she is?
Oh, I think it would be difficult. I really enjoy her as well, because I think small talk exhausts her. She’s definitely more of an introvert. She’s always avoiding people like Mrs. Parker, which is probably like me. So, no. I mean, I said to someone the other day, “I feel like I’ve given birth to this show, and I think probably I wouldn’t mind maybe just being a babysitter or an auntie next time, because it just takes everything.” So maybe I will. …But in terms of another female character, this one’s going to be hard to beat for me. She’s very special to me.