Karla-Simone Spence in The Confessions of Frannie Langton. Photo: ITV
Period dramas are a staple of television. From The Crown to Bridgerton and beyond, there is prettily packaged escapism, extravagance, romance and drama. But The Confessions of Frannie Langton is a departure from many mainstream period dramas. It takes a fresh look at the realities of the 18th century through the intersections of race, class, sexuality and oppression.
Based on Sara Collins’s best-selling novel set in opulent Georgian London, the four-part series tells the story of Frannie Langton, a 20-year-old Jamaican woman who travels from a plantation on the Caribbean island to England.
Upon arrival, she is handed over to scientist George Benham (Stephen Campbell Moore) and his wife, Madame Marguerite Benham (Sophie Cookson), and things take a sinister turn when Frannie becomes the prime suspect in a double murder.
From in a prison cell, Frannie fights to tell her truth in a world that wants to eliminate her existence. Rising actress Karla-Simone Spence, best known for Blue Story and Gold Digger, delivers a powerful and gripping performance as Frannie.
The Big Issue: Tell us about Frannie Langton.
Karla-Simone Spence: It was just an actor’s dream to get a character like this. I had such fun playing Frannie because there was so much to work with. There were moments of happiness, love, intelligence and really sad parts. I was like, wow, this is a proper lead role.
Did you feel pressure with it being the first lead role of your career?
I genuinely didn’t feel pressure because by the time it came along, I was ready. I have been waiting and pushing for it for so long. I was really excited. The only pressure would be that it is going out into the world, and people will see your baby.
In the first episode, your character says: “This is my story and it’s a story of love. Though everyone expected it to be a story of murder and truth, no one ever expects any type of story from a women like me.” Does this quote encapsulate the series?
Yeah, absolutely. There’s even a quote between Madame and Frannie where they’re like, “Men write to separate themselves from the common history, and women write to try to join it.” Frannie is fighting to tell her story. A lot of history is written from a man’s perspective. A lot of stories we don’t know because women weren’t able to write and tell them.
How different is the series of The Confessions of Frannie Langton from the book?
It sticks to the themes and Frannie is the same. But it’s impossible to put a novel into four episodes. With a book, you have full reign in your imagination. When you’re making a show, it is different. Romance is a main theme, but it is as dark as it can get. I love playing characters that go on an emotional journey and that are going through a hard time.
How did you make sure the chemistry between you and your co-star Sophie Cookson felt real?
We spent a lot of time working with an intimacy coordinator to make sure that the chemistry came across. We wanted the love story between Frannie and Madame to be authentic and believable. We did a few rehearsals with the director. It helped us bond and get comfortable with each other. I really enjoyed the love scenes and working with Sophie.
Your character shows a lot of emotion and heart. Where did you draw inspiration from?
The book was my holy grail. It had Frannie’s journey from the beginning in paradise, which I was lucky to have. I wouldn’t even say I really drew on anything. I had so much in-depth material about Frannie that I just embodied her.
While it is a fictional series, it touches on race, class, sexuality and oppression. How important is it to showcase these stories on screen today?
It is so important because we need to see stories of different people. You don’t want to see the same stories all the time. I mean, this is the first time I’ve seen a black woman in Georgian London, in this time period. It’s nice to see fresh new stories and a black woman who experienced it all through love, tenderness and all that comes with it. It’s not just one-dimensional.
Frannie overcomes adversity by telling her story and truth. How do you overcome adversity and challenges in your own life?
I keep going. I don’t quit. It’s like acting. It’s a tough industry for the majority of your career. You are going to hear nos. Most jobs you go for you’re not going to get, and it can knock your confidence. We only live once. We might as well do what we love and what we want.
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