Interview: Keeley Hawes on Channel 4's Traitors

Created by multiple award-winning playwright and screenwriter Bash Doran (Boardwalk Empire, Looming Tower, Masters of Sex), Traitors is her first original commission for British TV, with award-winning directors Dearbhla Walsh and Alex Winckler at the helm bringing the six-part series to life. 

Traitors will air on Channel 4 on Sunday 17th February at 9pm and globally on Netflix outside of the U.K. and Ireland (and China where Netflix is not available) later this year. 

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The cast includes Emma Appleton (Clique) as Feef Symonds, Keeley Hawes (Bodyguard, The Missing, Line of Duty) as Priscilla, Michael Stuhlbarg (Shape Of Water, The Looming Tower, The Post, Boardwalk Empire) as Rowe, Luke Treadaway (Ordeal by Innocence, Fortitude, Unbroken) as Hugh, Brandon P Bell (Dear White People) as Jackson, Stephen Campbell Moore (The Last Post, The Child in Time) as Philip and Matt Lauria (Kingdom, Parenthood) as Peter.

Traitors is a compulsive spy thriller that takes us behind the scenes of a seismic moment in global history, through the eyes of one young woman caught in the middle of it. An intimate epic set in 1945 London, Traitors is the dangerous, enthralling story of Feef, who is seduced by a rogue American spy into spying on her own country. Her task? To uncover a Russian agent in the heart of the British Government.

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Keeley Hawes tells us more…

Tell us a bit about the show.

Traitors is a thriller; it’s kind of got a bit of everything really. It’s the start of the Cold War, the end of the Second World War, the country is on its knees and these people working behind the scenes are rebuilding it from the ground up. It’s a fascinating period.

What did you think when you first read the scripts?

Bash’s writing is like a breath of fresh air. It’s always very telling when you receive a script and you start reading it, or you receive three or four or how many, and you don’t move position until you’ve finished them all. It’s like reading a really brilliant book and all you can think about is getting back to it to find out what happens. That happened for me with this. I read them all with one sitting and thought, “God I should be so lucky, it’s really brilliant.” There’s a freshness to it. It’s a costume drama but it doesn’t feel like one. That’s a really hard thing to do. She’s just a brilliant, brilliant storyteller and I really believe that will translate to the screen because it’s such fun to play.

Tell us a little about Priscilla.

We meet Priscilla as part of the interview panel who are interviewing Feef for the Civil Service and some of the other, well, all-male interviewees. There’s a flicker of interest in Priscilla about Feef. I think Priscilla does see herself reflected in Feef. She is a carer at home, on top of being the Undersecretary for the Cabinet Office within the Civil Service, so she has a very important job. She’ll be part of everything; in terms of policy making, she’ll go over the Prime Minister’s speeches, they have a hand at that level in everything. And she is the only woman. She’s Cambridge-educated, she’s really really bright.

Priscilla has something of an extracurricular activity, doesn’t she?

Priscilla and a few of her work colleagues are part of a Gilbert & Sullivan society, which is a really wonderful thing. It’s the am-dram society that they join. It’s a release from stresses of their everyday life. It’s so much a part of the character, and so much part of their lives… we spent a day doing all of the Gilbert & Sullivan stuff and it was really one of the nicest days that I’ve had on this job and there have been many. It was really wonderful. You could totally see why it’s such a healthy thing to do, isn’t it, to sing? It’s such a stress reliever and tension reliever. The atmosphere was great, and the director was singing along. It was a really lovely, joyful thing.

What are some of your favourite moments from shooting Traitors?

I loved the Gilbert & Sullivan day. It felt like a huge achievement for lots of different reasons and it’s just a side of these characters which is so lovely to see.

Why should we watch Traitors?

You should watch it because the writing is brilliant. This isn’t a story that’s been told before. This is something really new and really fresh and really thrilling.

Traitors - Sundays at 9pm on Channel 4.