Secrets from the set: The Woman in the Wall

Secrets from the set: The Woman in the Wall

  • The real-life Magdalene Laundries housed Ireland’s ‘fallen’ women until 1996
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With its haunted house, scary nuns and sleepwalking scenes, you could easily mistake this BBC mystery drama for a horror film.

But the six-parter is inspired by the real-life Magdalene Laundries, Catholic institutions where Ireland’s ‘fallen’ women – including abuse victims and teenage mums – were housed and forced to work from the 18th century until as late as 1996.

Set in 2015, the story follows traumatised Lorna Brady (Ruth Wilson) as she desperately searches for her child, who was taken away from her while she was a resident at one of these homes.

To prepare to play Lorna, Ruth visited Tuam in Galway, where the remains of hundreds of children and babies were discovered in the grounds of a former Mother and Baby Home in 2017.

A consultant was on hand to ensure the portrayal of life in the Laundries, which we see through flashbacks, was accurate. 

Lorna, played by Ruth Wilson, in The Woman in the Wall’s striking opening sequence 

Every department, from design to costume and hair and make-up, researched what life was like in a Laundry in the mid-80s.

The drama is set in the fictional town of Kilkinure, so viewers don’t make direct links to any real people. 

The team filmed the series in Portaferry, a quaint coastal town in Northern Ireland chosen for its colourful buildings, which provide a contrast to the show’s dark subject matter, although the crew had to endure the unpredictable Northern Irish weather while filming.

The series was shot in winter, which adds to the atmosphere but gave the crew a headache when filming outdoors as the wind was so loud it drowned out the actors’ dialogue, meaning the sound had to be fixed later. And in some scenes you’ll notice that the actors’ hair is inexplicably windswept! 

In the show’s opening sequence, where Lorna is lying in a country lane surrounded by cows, Ruth had to brave the cold in just a nightgown, while the crew kept warm in goose-down jackets.

Lorna’s house is the series’ key location. The exterior shots were filmed at a real property in Portaferry, while the interiors were built in an old mill in the Northern Irish countryside. The team even created replicas of the hedge and road outside the house.

The set was decorated to reflect Lorna’s troubled mind. She’s inherited the house from her parents and we see in flashbacks that the decor, including the outdated wallpaper and a painting of Christ, is identical. 

‘The past hasn’t been dealt with,’ says Ruth. ‘It’s still there facing her every day.’

The show’s adaptable set also allowed the crew to use the titular ‘wall’, in which Lorna hides a corpse, to great effect. 

When it came to showing life in the Laundries, which are presented in flashbacks, a consultant was on set to ensure the portrayal was accurate

The actors could climb into the wall and some scenes were even filmed from inside it. 

‘You can get lost in the architecture of the house, it’s almost its own organism,’ says executive producer Simon Maxwell.

Ruth really did put the body inside the wall, and later break it down with an axe, though she obviously had only a few attempts to nail this scene. 

‘You want to get it right the first or second time,’ says Simon. ‘Ruth smashed it!’

  • The Woman In The Wall, Sunday, 9pm, BBC1. All episodes available on iPlayer.

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