An air of familiarity surrounds Charity Wakefield. A seasoned pro in the period drama game, Charity has appeared in everything from Austin adaptations to big Hollywood affairs. Her next project to air, Wolf Hall – an adaptation of the acclaimed novel by Hilary Mantel – began on Wednesday night on BBC2.
We caught up with Charity to talk about costumes and her second love: vintage clothing.
Tell us about your role in Wolf Hall.
I play Mary Boleyn – Anne Boleyn's sister – who was key to Anne's success really. The Boleyn family was ambitious: at fifteen Mary was sent to France as part of the English court. Inspite of being in France with the King's wife, she quickly became the King's mistress. When the King died, Mary went back to England and even though she then found her own husband, she became mistress to Henry VIII. When her sister Anne came to court, Mary was put out of favour. That's when Wolf Hall starts. It was helpful to Anne's progress that Mary was intimate with the King already, because she was able to teach Anne various things, but as Anne gets nearer to the King she pushes her sister further away.
At this point in the story, she's in a precarious position. She's lost her husband and she doesn't have a position at court; all of her favour lies in the hands of the King and Queen.
Playing the gentry during the time of Henry VIII must mean that you got to wear some amazing costumes!
We had swathes of classes about etiquette- it was like going to finishing school! We had to learn how to bow which is nigh on impossible when you're wearing a corset. The skirts are so heavy that you have to walk very slowly and at a slight incline so that they don't swing and reveal your ankles, or anything else. They didn't wear any knickers at all because it was considered unseemly. You'd only wear knickers if you were trying to be provocative.
What's it like wearing a corset?
In this period, the corsets were sewn into the dresses, which was difficult. It was such a big job to get the hair and make up done you could never take it off, so we were in our dresses from about 6am until sometimes 8pm, which is tiring. You wouldn't think that your clothes could make you tired, but they do.
When you’re not filming you run a vintage shop – Charlie Foxtrot – with a friend, how did that come about?
The shop started with a Scrabble club with three of my girlfriends. By virtue of it being four girls meeting regularly, we'd now and again bring clothes to swap with each other. My friend Frances and I found that we had lots of random but lovely vintage pieces. After a while we decided that we shouldn't really be giving them away so we did our first pop up sale in a lovely pub called the Ivydale in South-East London. We sat in our vintage clothes as if we were in a Wes Anderson film. After about five years of doing market stalls and pop ups it's lovely to finally have our own space.
It’s great to have a business; as an actor your career can feel quite random because you're never in control, and you're often not there at the beginning of the process which I would like to have been. When I'm working, the costume is the point where everything comes together. You do your audition, you get the job, you go for the meetings and then you get your costumes. It's that moment you looking in the mirror when everything suddenly clicks.
You can watch Wolf Hall at 9pm on Wednesdays on BBC2, and catch up online.
Photography: Liz Seabrook
Make up: Andriani Vasiliou @ Stella Creative Artists
Hair: Johnnie Biles @ Stella Creative Artists