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Boxing Clever
As her directorial debut The Fight comes out on DVD, BAFTA-winning actor and writer Jessica Hynes explains why she owes her career to growing up in Brighton
Duncan Hall

From her early roles in The Royle Family and Spaced, to monstrous PR Siobhan Sharpe in Twenty Twelve and W1A, Jessica Hynes has established herself as a comic actress.

But in recent years her focus has turned more to drama – most notably her BAFTA-winning role as a mother facing life with a learning disabled child in There She Goes, and a key character in Russell T Davies’ stunning dystopian series Years and Years, which should sweep the board at the next round of television awards.

Similarly her directorial debut – the self-penned The Fight – is a naturalistic tale focusing on the stresses faced in modern family life. The film may be set in Jessica’s adopted hometown of Folkestone, but her Brighton childhood played an important role in getting her career underway. “I had a great drama teacher, Jenny Leworthy, who ran a class in Hove Town Hall which I went to every Saturday,” she recalls. “It changed my life. We used to do Victoria Wood monologues and put on shows at the Brighthelm Centre – it built up my confidence.

“There was also a primary school teacher at St Luke’s, Pat Holford, who would put on these incredible productions with music from Liz Taylor. They were unique and special people – they helped me and gave me my life. I can’t imagine doing what I do now without them.”

Jessica joined the National Youth Theatre around the time her family moved out of Brighton in 1989, which eventually led to a film role, in Peter Greenaway’s 1993 film The Baby of Macon. Following a series of comedy shows on stage and television in 1998 she was cast as Caroline Aherne’s diet-obsessed best friend Cheryl in The Royle Family. Around the same time she joined forces with fellow actor Simon Pegg to pen Spaced, a surreal cult comedy series about 20-somethings living in modern day London, which was packed with memorable characters and loving pop culture homages. The series earned her two British Comedy Awards, as best newcomer in 1999 and best comedy TV actress in 2001. Since then career highlights have included a scene-stealing role as the PR from hell Siobhan in Twenty Twelve and its follow-up BBC-set W1A (which resulted in her first BAFTA for best female comedy performance in 2015), as well as appearances in Dr Who, the Bridget Jones movies and Paddington 2. In 2013 she penned and starred in BBC suffragette comedy Up The Women.

Directing was something she had always wanted to do, but felt that perhaps the ship had sailed. “When I had the opportunity I jumped at it,” she says.

The Fight follows Tina, a stressed mum of three and social care nurse living and working in Folkestone. When she finds out her daughter is being bullied at school, and her difficult relationship with her mother comes to a head, she tries an unusual method of breaking out of the cycle of dysfunction.

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October 2019