‘Hair was a big thing’: Ophelia Lovibond on Carrie Johnson’s stilettos for this England
Ophelia Lovibond’s Favorite Making Souvenir This England – the new Sky drama exploring how the pandemic played out in the halls of British power during 2020 – involves filming a pool scene with Sir Kenneth Branagh, the Boris Johnson to his Carrie Symonds in the series. The crew had recreated the couple’s famous winter getaway to Mustique at the start of that tumultuous year, but it wasn’t the exotic setting that made it stand out in their minds. “We actually shot most of it in Norfolk!” says Lovibond, pointing out that ongoing Covid restrictions ruled out any getaways to the Caribbean to shoot on location. Rather, it was his off-camera antics while his co-star was in frame that left a lasting impression. “I had to lie on the ground and pretend to swim. I remember thinking…this is the weirdest way to pay the rent.
Although some locations may have been faked (Wolterton Hall in North Norfolk stood in for both 10 Downing Street and Chevening), the show’s plot is very grounded in reality. “It’s been incredibly well documented,” says Lovibond, who worked closely with Tim Shipman, political editor at The Sunday Times and consultant on drama, while preparing to play one of the most high-profile and enigmatic women in British politics. “He knows Carrie,” she says, “so I was very keen to talk to her and get her ideas — I took tons of notes.”
Although Lovibond watched with the rest of the country as Carrie moved into the flat above 11 Downing Street with her then-boyfriend (and newly minted UK Prime Minister) Boris in the summer of 2019, she confesses to knowing little at the time about the public relations guru who would eventually become Johnson’s third wife. “I’ve always been very politically involved, but I didn’t know Carrie’s story specifically,” says the actor, who was shooting the 70s comedy. Naughty in LA when she received the script and was invited to audition for director Michael Winterbottom on Zoom. “I thought, blimey, this is a great company.”
Once she signed on for the project, Lovibond set about learning everything she could about her character. In addition to Shipman’s insights, “I’ve spoken to people who knew her when she was younger,” she says, but points out that despite the countless columns she’s inspired since her relationship with the Prime Minister has become official, his public appearances are rare – and public remarks even rarer. “Compared to Boris, there are certainly very few images of her,” says Lovibond. “His own life was quite private up to this point. [when they became a couple].” The actor found himself replaying recordings of environmental talks the staunch environmentalist had given in the past. “I ended up watching the same cuts over and over again,” she says.