Keeley Hawes talks tackling Shakespeare for the first time in front of Dame Judi Dench


Keeley Hawes has talked of her joy at acting in her first Shakespeare production alongside veteran of the Bard, Dame Judi Dench.

The Line Of Duty star portrays Elizabeth Woodville, the commoner queen of King Edward IV, opposite Dame Judi's Cecily, Duchess of York, in The Hollow Crown: The Wars Of The Roses.

Keeley told the Press Association: "I absolutely adored Judi Dench. I was so unbelievably lucky to work with her, particularly doing Shakespeare. Everyone was lovely and it was a very happy set, but of course getting the opportunity to work with Judi was extra special."

The Hollow Crown's Keeley Hawes
The Hollow Crown's Keeley Hawes (Robert Viglasky/BBC/Carnival Film & Television Ltd)

The first series of The Hollow Crown, broadcast in 2012, won Ben Whishaw a Bafta for Richard II.

The concluding parts of the BBC Two adaptations of Shakespeare's history plays also feature the very best of British talent and cover Henry VI Parts I & II, and Richard III.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Richard III and heads an impressive ensemble cast under the direction of Dominic Cooke.

Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC's The Hollow Crown
Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC's The Hollow Crown (Robert Viglasky/Carnival Film & Television Ltd/BBC)

An average overnight audience of one million viewers watched last week's opener which featured, among others, Downton Abbey's Hugh Bonneville as the Duke of Gloucester, Undercover's Sophie Okonedo as Queen Margaret of Anjou and Keeley's Line Of Duty co-star Adrian Dunbar as Plantagenet.

Keeley, who has described herself as a "Shakespeare virgin", recently revealed that she based her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth on Princess Diana.

She will appear on screen in Saturday's Henry VI Part II where viewers can expect more intrigue and bloody battles over the throne of England between the House of Lancaster and the House of York, two branches descended from Edward III.

Keeley Hawes and Dame Judi Dench
Keeley Hawes and Dame Judi Dench (Robert Viglasky/BBC/Carnival Film & Television Ltd)

"I've come to Shakespeare relatively late in my career, and found it pretty challenging," the 40-year-old said.

Keeley added: "It's like acting in another language at first, but as you begin to work through the scenes, literally a line at a time, everything becomes clear and you realise just how wonderful it is."

The London-born star spoke with warmth about co-star Sophie, whose stage breakthrough came in 1999 when she portrayed Cressida in Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida.

Keeley Hawes and Dame Judi Dench in The Hollow Crown
Keeley Hawes and Dame Judi Dench in The Hollow Crown (Robert Viglasky/BBC/Carnival Film & Television Ltd)

"I loved working with Sophie Okonedo too. She's wonderful and was completely brilliant in the role."

The acclaimed actress has demonstrated her range in the last few weeks with contrasting roles in BBC Two's hit drama Line Of Duty and ITV smash The Durrells.

Fans will hope she continues her winning streak as Queen Elizabeth, but Keeley admitted the part was not an easy one to play.

Keeley Hawes in Line of Duty
Keeley Hawes in Line of Duty (World Productions/BBC)

"The main challenges were deciphering the language, although rehearsals with Dominic Cooke and the cast were obviously helpful for that."

Keeley added: "I had a scene which involved running to tell Cecily that her son, my husband has died. But various locations were needed so I ended up running in about five different locations over about three months all over England to achieve it!"

When asked if audiences can expect to see her tackle more of the Bard's work in the future, she acknowledged The Hollow Crown's role in her career.

Keeley Hawes in The Durrells
Keeley Hawes in The Durrells (ITV)

"I haven't been asked to do any more Shakespeare as yet, but I'd definitely consider it in a way I wouldn't have before The Hollow Crown," she said.

"It's not an exclusive club. It's for everyone."

Keeley is currently filming the second series of BBC One drama The Missing alongside David Morrissey.

The Hollow Crown: The War Of The Roses, Henry VI Part II is broadcast on May 14 on BBC Two at 9pm.