The Doll Factory: Éanna Hardwicke and Saoirse-Monica Jackson on their new series

The Cork actor and the Derry Girls' star feature in the adaptation of Elizabeth Macneal’s period thriller, writes Esther McCarthy
The Doll Factory: Éanna Hardwicke and Saoirse-Monica Jackson on their new series

Éanna Hardwicke in The Doll Factory

Two of Ireland’s biggest stars don period garb for The Doll Factory, a major new series adapted from Elizabeth Macneal’s best-selling novel. Set in Victorian England - but actually filmed on location in Ireland - the twisty new drama centres on a woman who paints dolls for a living, but really wants to become an artist.

Told through a sharp modern gaze, the suspenseful series looks at the ambitions of a number of people in a city humming with anticipation but also fraught with dangers.

Cork actor Éanna Hardwicke plays the enigmatic taxidermist Silas, while Saoirse-Monica Jackson follows up her role in the beloved Derry Girls with something completely different. 

Bluebell is a cockney-accented sex worker with a canny knack for reading the characters who frequent the bar where she works.

Saoirse-Monica Jackson in The Doll Factory. 
Saoirse-Monica Jackson in The Doll Factory. 

“She’s woven in and out of a lot of everybody else's story,” says Jackson. “She's predominantly based in The Dolphin Pub and she’s quite keen on the fact that maybe Silas isn’t who he’s presenting to the world he is.”

 There are big reveals to come in what is a gritty series that doesn’t sugar-coat the challenges and dangers its characters face.

“The thing about Bluebell and Silas is they're both in this world of class in Victorian London where everyone's interacting with each other, even if they're not supposed to be friends,” says Hardwicke.

“The scientists are down in The Dolphin Pub, the artists are in search of these women to be their muses and their models, painting them, using them and moving on. There's this transactional world between everybody and Silas plays his own role in that.

“It crosses all strata - the poor people, the richer people, the upper class, the working class. It’s a really fascinating time when the story takes place.

“It's cool to step back in time. But I suppose you also want to have the feeling that it's living and breathing and not a museum piece. To do that in a really subtle way, as Elizabeth did in her book, and as Charley (Myles) did in her adaptation, I just love how they balanced all of that.”

The cast of The Doll Factory.
The cast of The Doll Factory.

 The flagship winter series for Paramount Plus was a coup for the Irish film industry as it was entirely shot on location here, with Ireland doubling for Victorian England, as it has done with numerous other projects. The show filmed across various locations in Dublin, Kildare, Wicklow and Meath, including Powerscourt and Kilruddery House It meant that both actors got to work on home turf with many crew members they already knew from other projects.

“You really get to know people and it was a joy for me because I'd worked with loads of people in our crew before,” says Hardwicke of the experience. “When there’s a bit of a family atmosphere it makes everyone’s job much easier.

“They did a great job of getting away from some of the more used places. A lot of the interiors were on sets. But actually they used a lot of real-life locations, people's bedrooms, hallways, in period houses.”

 Interestingly, the Glanmire actor uses an Irish accent to play Silas, which he described as a hybrid between south Kilkenny, East Limerick and North Cork.

“Somewhere in that triangle! I think that's the point, that it's about being a true depiction of the story. Victorian London would have been full of people from all over the world.”

 The success of Irish-made shows and films abroad seems to have also opened up Irish voices to international audiences. It’s now commonplace for Irish actors to be asked to audition in their own accents for shows. Although Derry-born Jackson plays a Londoner in The Doll Factory, she loves having the opportunities to mix it up.

“I think there's been a lot of remarkable work that has come from Ireland like Normal People and Derry Girls that have broken the mould, enriched people, and it's more like a comeback of the Irish accent,” she says.

“In Hollywood in the '70s and the '80s the Irish accent was quite popular. So we're having a bit of a renaissance, really. TV and film should be a true depiction of everybody and I think it always makes for a more interesting base. I never expected to work in my own accent, so I'm delighted by it.” 

Saoirse-Monica Jackson attends the "Onward" UK Premiere at The Curzon Mayfair on February 23, 2020 in London, England.
Saoirse-Monica Jackson attends the "Onward" UK Premiere at The Curzon Mayfair on February 23, 2020 in London, England.

She also relished the chance to play a very different character, a year after saying goodbye to Derry Girls in what was a powerful and much-loved series finale.

“Of course Derry Girls was my big break but I think it has been more fundamentally a bigger impact now,” she says of taking on new projects. “Getting to move away from that and have the confidence to sort of step back from that character and having the freedom to play other parts has been amazing for me and it's definitely filled me with confidence.”

 Hardwicke, too, has had a remarkable year. A starring role in the final series of Irish drama Smother was followed by rave reviews for his disturbing performance in BBC’s The Sixth Commandment. He played real-life killer Ben Field, who inveigled his way into the lives of vulnerable people.

As in many of his projects, it’s all about venturing into the unknown. “Ultimately it's all about the writing and then after that, I definitely always wanted to try different things, whether that be genre, the tone of something or the character,” he says.

“That's something I've always sought out. But really, it's just project to project. To go into something and go: right, this is frightening or this is scary or this is different. This is new territory - that’s where the exciting stuff happens.”

  •  The Doll Factory is streaming on Paramount Plus from 27th of November, with the full box set available on  Friday, December 1

Five films to watch out for in the next week:

Joaquin Phoenix in Napoleon
Joaquin Phoenix in Napoleon

  • Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé (cinemas from Friday, Dec 1): Part concert film, part documentary, this film follows the multi-award-winning star’s tour from its inception to its finale.
  • Napoleon (cinemas now): Ridley Scott directs Joaquin Phoenix in his much-discussed period epic, about the rise and fall of French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.
  • Leo (Netflix): Adam Sandler’s animated film about a jaded lizard is proving a big hit with family audiences courtesy of its witty script and catchy tunes.
  • Candy Cane Lane (Prime Video from today): Eddie Murphy is a man on a mission to win his neighbourhood’s festive contest in this Yuletide-themed comedy.
  • May December (now in cinemas, Sky Cinema from December 8): Todd Haynes’ twisty and clever thriller centres on an actress tasked with playing a woman involved in a sex scandal decades earlier. Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman star.

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