Ruth Wilson leads an all-British cast in Mrs Wilson, a new original three-part drama for BBC One, co-produced with Masterpiece, based on the life of her own grandmother.
It’s 1963, and Alison Wilson (Ruth Wilson) returns home to find husband Alexander (Iain Glen) dead. Blinded by grief, Alison is bewildered when a woman unexpectedly arrives at the door, claiming to be Alec’s ‘real wife’ Gladys (Elizabeth Rider).
Alison embarks on a mission to discover who her husband really was. But by dissecting their wartime romance whilst working for the secret service, and learning about his mysterious past in India, it soon becomes clear to Alison that Alec died holding his secrets close to his chest.
Alison is left craving the truth as she makes discoveries that threaten to tear her carefully crafted world apart.
WHO WAS ALEC WILSON?
“I think Alexander Wilson’s story is a little bit of an enigma and it remains so today, because of his history of working with the secret service,” says Ruth Kenley-Letts, the show’s executive producer and one of the first to develop Ruth Wilson’s family story from an idea into a fully-funded production for the BBC.
“There is no doubt that he worked for MI6. He was clearly a highly intelligent man. He spoke seven languages, which must have been incredibly useful to the intelligence service during the Second World War. Alison met him whilst he was working there as a translator and she was his secretary.”
But what happened to him after WWII? This question has intrigued the family for years and is something the show’s makers have toyed with ever since screenwriter Anna Symon’s initial research into the subject. According to Kenley-Letts, Alison believed that he worked undercover for many years, taking on low-level jobs in order to infiltrate various organisations that he’d been tasked to spy on. “There are others who say he was fired from the Secret Service,” she says. “That he was a fantasist and lied.”
As Symon delved into Wilson’s wartime background, she admits she continued to find new things at every turn. “I kept changing my mind,” she says. “Was he a good man? Was he a flawed man – or an absolute charlatan?”
Symon believes that the work Wilson undertook damaged him psychologically, that the freedom and fiction of his occupation led him to create fictional lives for himself. He was known for his linguistic skills and was considered a talented writer. According to Symon, women fell at his feet.
“He was incredibly charming. He remains an absolute enigma. In fact in Alison Wilson’s memoir, she says he will remain an enigma in an unmarked grave.”
Ruth Wilson as Alison Wilson
Iain Glen as Alec Wilson
Fiona Shaw as Coleman
Anupam Kher as Shahbaz Karim
Otto Farrant as Nigel Wilson
Calam Lynch as Gordon Wilson
Ian McElhinney as Father Timothy
Joy Richardson as Olive
UK | BBC One | 2018