Kerri McLean is Kitty Despard in Poldark
POLDARK SERIES 5 14th July 9pm, BBC One
Kerri McLean is proud to portray the strong-willed former slave Kitty Despard for the final series of Poldark - a real woman wiped from our history books.
"When I first researched Catherine Despard online and found that she was going around London in the early 1800s campaigning, writing, and giving talks I just thought. what a woman. She is one of those unheard voices of history. Period drama has traditionally not shown black characters and so it is a real honour to play her and I have felt a responsibility to do a good job. I am proud and feel enormously lucky to have been given this role.
Kitty is a formidable woman, very determined and intelligent. She is strategic and knows how to play the long game. When we meet Kitty she has been in London for a year and her husband, Ned (Vincent Regan), has had his governorship taken away and has been wrongfully imprisoned. Kitty is going all over London campaigning and trying to convince people to help get Ned released. She is having no luck and so as a last result Ned advises her to contact a friend of his from the revolutionary war in America, Ross Poldark (Aidan Turner).
Kitty recognises the name as he is an MP and is well known, but she is also a bit wary of him as she has an inkling of what these two are like together, which is a bit of a nightmare. But they’re out of options, so she gets a carriage down to Cornwall and turns up on the Poldark’s doorstep asking for help. That’s when the mission begins."
Kerri tells us how Kitty and Ned came to meet and what it was like working alongside Vincent Regan.
"Kitty is Jamaican. She went with her mother, who was a slave, to Honduras to work. When Kitty was about 13 her mother begged her current master to sell her and she ended up working as a kitchen maid for Ned, a governor. They were in close quarters and when Ned got ill with a fever Kitty nursed him back to health and they fell for each other, so when Kitty fell pregnant they decided to get married. They have this amazing relationship and they really do love each other, they didn’t marry for convenience or to strengthen a family standing, they married for love and I hope that is very strong when you see us on screen.
I remember the first day I met Vincent, we got in the car on my first day of work and started chatting and we just hit it off from then on. He is such a strong actor that I feel really lucky to have had the opportunity to work alongside him. He is also a lovely man and now friend."
New to Cornwall, Kitty is welcomed by some but not by all. Kerri reveals a little about Kitty’s relationships with Poldark’s key characters.
"When Kitty meets Ross there is an immediate understanding that she is Ned’s wife, and so he takes her in without hesitation and they get on right away. Early on Ross and Dwight (Luke Norris) come to see Kitty speak and are impressed. They realise she is not a passive woman, she has been out in London on her own for a year. London was a major city and there were not a lot of black people around, but she very much could stand on her own two feet, and Ross recognises that in her.
When Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson) first meets Kitty she is a little thrown, but there is a mirroring between the two characters as it is established that they were both maids who fell in love with and married their masters, and for both of these women that now puts them in a very different social class. So there is a natural bond they share with each other.
When Kitty meets Dwight there is a little twinkle in their eyes - she genuinely enjoys his company, she likes his intelligence and his emotional depth. Dwight is rather fascinated with Kitty and the two spend a lot of time together, causing some problems between Dwight and Caroline (Gabriella Wilde).
Within the prison system at this time there is a lot of secret torture taking place and Kitty has been documenting it from day one, she is in with all of the guards and has been taking testimonials on the kinds of things that are happening inside the prison. Dwight decides to join forces with her to fight this and as a result they spend a great deal of time together, much to Caroline’s dismay. When Kitty first meets Caroline she realises that she and Dwight are quite different and that Caroline keeps her emotions close to her chest. However, Caroline is a good person and she really takes to Kitty. After being so appalled with the way the upper classes are treating Kitty when she is around town, Caroline even decided to hold a ball to introduce her into society."
Kerri tells us about her favourite moments from filming.
One of my favourite days of filming was the day we were shooting a scene in the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. Kitty spends most of her time in a dowdy dress as Ned has had his income stopped and we don’t have much money, but for this scene I got to wear a beautiful brown dress that I felt amazing in.
The scene is pretty hardcore, with everyone thinking Kitty is a prostitute and looking down on her, so it was tough to film - but being in that dress made me feel so confident. Although I got a terrible cold from this, another favourite moment from filming was the incredible moment when Kitty comes face to face with someone she has a traumatic history with and we have this incredibly tense stand-off."
July 9, 2019 5:40am ET by BBC One