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Lauren Lyle: ‘Karen Pirie is such a relevant story, a reality of what’s happening’

Star of new ITV crime drama Karen Pirie talks about the responsibility of leading a series that has a serious point to make about society

Karen Pirie is a three-part ITV crime drama series based on the legendary Scottish author Val McDermid’s novel, The Distant Echo. Rosie Duff, a university student was murdered in 1996. At the time of the crime, three university students who discovered the body were prime suspects but a lack of evidence led to the dismissal of the case. Twenty-five years later, the case is at the centre of a crime podcast and has been reopened. Can detective Karen Pirie finally unravel the truth? 

Scottish actress Lauren Lyle, best known for portraying Marsali in Outlander, takes the lead for the first time in her career.

“I feel honoured,” she says. “I never thought I’d get to do it in my twenties. It was my first time leading a show, and there’s a lot of responsibility that comes with that.” 

Lyle recognises that it’s often brooding older men who are at the centre of crime dramas. 

“We’ve always seen a male-dominated police point of view,” she says. “I don’t think we’ve ever seen a young female detective in her twenties. It’s a lot more hopeful, exciting and driven.  

“We see it through a different, compassionate lens. A view of someone that it could happen to. She understands the dangers and reality of why these things often aren’t solved or aren’t listened to and where the victim blaming goes on. 

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“It’s important that we see it through this perspective and not via an older guy going through an affair or something else at the same time.” 

This is, says Lyle, one of several real-life social issues highlighted in the show – and it could not be more timely. 

“It is such a relevant story, a reality of what’s happening,” she says. “It is a fresh and necessary take because it’s not as though this is fiction. Women are continuing to be murdered. And until that stops happening, why would we stop highlighting it and putting it in the public eye? It’s important. 

“Even having lots of characters of colour and having that nuance of what it means for them. What it’s like for them to be in the police in 2022.” 

Lyle had an instant affinity for her character. “Karen is an exciting, fresh young face who is willing to make a change and do what’s right. She is determined to go via other means of the police and not quite follow orders to get what she thinks needs to be done.  

“I had to do a lot of police research. I fully immersed myself, it was brilliant. I loved every minute of it. The whole thing is about Karen being like, oh my god, how am I going to do this? Why have you chosen me? And then her being underestimated. Karen is desperate to do the right thing and solve this crime.” 

Lauren Lyle DS Karen Pirie, credit: ITV
Lauren Lyle DS Karen Pirie, credit: ITV

To do justice to the role, Lyle took the case every bit as seriously as her onscreen character. 

“In my evenings, I came home and had the whole case on my wall,” she says. “I had the case at home written out with who was doing what to keep up with it all. 

“It was intense because you also have to honour how heavy and dark the material is and make sure you get it right.” 

Karen Pirie starts on Sunday at 8pm on ITV and streams on ITV Hub

Main image: Photographer: Joseph Sinclair, Makeup: Maria Asadi, Hair: Joe Pickering-Taylor, Styling: Emily Tighe

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