“My spoilering is so strong,” the 33-year-old laughs as I excise another reference to whodunnit. “I reveal birthday presents I’ve got for people. I’m not told about surprise parties.”
The prestige Christie adaptation at Christmas has become something of an annual staple since 2015's And Then There Were None, with recent series including The Pale Horse and The ABC Murders. They were certainly favourites in the Clark household.
“I love Agatha Christie and I was really excited to be part of it,” says the actor, best known for her role in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. “We always watched these at Christmas. My grandparents, who are no longer with us unfortunately, would have been incredibly proud of this. It’s an institution, and it’s also a style, so as an actor it’s really fun to play. It’s quite arch and theatrical.”
Murder Is Easy is an adaptation of one of Christie's lesser-known detective novels, and Clark stars opposite David Jonsson (known for BBC series Industry and sweet London rom-com Rye Lane) and a host of great British character actors including Penelope Wilton and Douglas Henshall.
In it, Jonsson plays Luke Fitzwilliam, who is alerted to a series of strange deaths in a sleepy English village (natch) and sets out to investigate. There he meets Bridget Conway, brilliantly played by Clark, engaged to the boorish Lord Whitfield (Tom Riley), and they set off to investigate whether these really are accidental deaths, or (gasp) a murderer is on the loose.
Her character Bridget is different from many roles she’s played, Clark says, “She’s confident and competent, and…” then she promptly drops another spoiler.
The two-parter ticks all the boxes for top notch Christie adaptations: there are steam trains and chocolate box villages, as well as a cast of seemingly-upstanding-but-actually-quite-dodgy villagers, from the doctor to the Reverend and the lord of the manor.
Crucially, however, there is no Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple, which allowed the filmmakers to update parts of the tale with impunity. “It was nice to feel there was an ability to wriggle things around without distressing people too much,” Clark said.
“What’s wonderful and terrifying is that you just don’t know how anything is going to land,” she says. “Some people will like it and some people won’t. But it does crack me up because I do sometimes think about what Agatha Christie would think about us online being hugely offended by things. We’re just very sensitive – human beings – aren’t we? I have that in me as well.”
As we chat in the Groucho Club in the heart of London's Soho, Clark comes across as someone with real sensitivity and thoughtfulness – pulling back on some answers to ensure she says exactly what she means – and also someone who is quick to laugh. She is wearing a black sleeveless blouse, which is slightly unfortunate as the air conditioning is up full blast but I fear tinkering with the control panel in case I somehow press a button that knocks the entirety of Soho off the grid.
We talk (cold arms and all) about how, though this is another nostalgic Christie murder drama, with all the trimmings, it also explores serious, contemporary issues, from class, to female empowerment, power structures, race and colonialism. “Agatha Christie really suits being switched up and changed considering what the world is like now,” Clark says. “She was interrogating people all the time.”
This version of the story looks at who gets to speak and who doesn’t. According to Clark, the show’s writer Sian Ejiwunmi-Le Berre talked about “the cost of silence. That’s something unfortunately we don’t seem to ever learn. We’re still on our journey as a society to find a place where people can not only speak, but speak and be listened to.”
Fitzwilliam is a wealthy man, but being a person of colour he is totally on the outside of 1950s society's power-brokers. Bridget, as a woman, is largely ignored and underestimated. “If you don’t have power, how do you find a way to make anything you want to happen, happen?" she asks. "And I think middle class white women of the past, you had to be very socially clever, and at times sneaky and manipulative. That’s where Bridget has been, ‘Okay I can do this’… but it’s also not good for the soul, so I like the journey for her [away from that].”
Class structure is prominent in Christie's novel and is explored in the show too. “Class is a fascinating part of British culture,” she says. “When I talked to people from New Zealand [when she spent years there filming the Rings of Power] and Australia, when they went to the UK, the first thing that springs out to them is the class system, which we are so well versed in we don’t even notice it. And I think Agatha Christie explores that so funnily and so brutally. Like… she is so rude to us. That’s why I love her books.” Born in Sweden, Clark grew up in Wales, bilingual in English and Welsh, and culture and performance was hardwired into her from school. “What I didn’t appreciate until I moved from Wales was how spoiled you are. In Wales there’s a push towards the arts, but particularly in a Welsh language school, and I didn’t understand at the time what a privilege that was. You have huge access to the arts and it’s very normal to be in a choir.”
She talks fondly of a competition called the Eisteddfod, in which children compete in singing, dancing or reciting. “We all dress up as little old Welsh ladies, which I though the whole world did until I was about nine. It teaches you how to fail and how to compete without wanting to win. It’s just about getting up there and doing it because everyone does it."
She thinks art in schools should be protected. “I was taught as a child that was a place I could be happy and enjoy myself. That is something that is particularly Welsh and I’d love it if it was particularly English as well.”
At seven, she was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and she didn't enjoy school so she dropped out at 16. She attended youth theatres before returning to study, and after A-levels went to study at the Drama Centre in London.
After graduating she quickly landed a string of roles, landing roles in the films The Falling (with Florence Pugh and Maisie Williams) and Madame Bovary, as well as a string of stage roles including Cordelia in King Lear at the Old Vic, opposite Glenda Jackson as the titular king. “There was almost something mythical about her to me, and I never like to say I’m feeling tired after doing a job with Glenda, because she was in her mid-80s, she was in all day, every day.”
Celia Imrie and Jane Horrocks were also in the production, and she speaks of it fondly. “I felt very guided by that experience. Post MeToo, I felt so protected by women who came before me in this industry.”
Meanwhile the screen roles kept coming with Patrick Melrose and His Dark Materials on TV and The Personal History of David Copperfield on film. Then came Saint Maud, in which Clark played a religious hospice nurse who becomes obsessed with saving the soul of her dying patient.
This small, independent horror film became a critical smash and Clark was hailed as the next big thing. Variety said she offered “brilliant, blood-freezing intensity” while Screen International called her a “bold, quietly nerve-shredding lead”.
It was her first out-and-out lead role, and (slightly terrifyingly) the character of Maud left its mark. “She did stay with me… If you’re playing someone society is very cruel to, it does open your eyes to things. I feel I became more bruisable after playing her because there were certain cruelties I hadn’t been hyper-aware of before, and I felt that playing Maude has made me a better person.
"The casual cruelty she experiences, and the harshness, and the lack of community means she is so isolated. I’d like to think that kindness is quite radical in a capitalist society and in Maud you don’t see anyone being kind to her. Hopefully after watching Maud, as well as scaring people it will have a nice positive effect.”
The film "definitely did change things, and I didn’t know that when I was in a little basement, covered in soup, because the vomit rig had been dodgy and all over the place. We were just beginners thinking, ‘Are we going to do it? Will the film get made?’”
The more work she does, Clark says, "the less I understand how anything gets made, particularly independents. Any independent film you watch, the tenacity it has taken to get it made is wild. And the passion, and that’s something I appreciate more and more and understand less and less.”
After Maud the offers came in including a role on what is rumoured to be the most expensive TV show ever made – The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, in which she was cast as Galadriel, the mightiest and fairest of the Elves, played in the films by Cate Blanchett. The second series has been filmed but there’s no indication of when it will drop – and this is a spoiler that Clark doesn’t give away (though it's not clear she actually knows). Being cast in the show was wild. “It was like a dream come true from someone whose parents had read them The Hobbit, and from a family of fantasy fans. Also as a Welsh person, Tolkien is a source of pride, because he talked about how the Welsh language is beautiful and how it inspired him. Elvish is based on Welsh.
“His work had been a big part of my existence. And just getting to do a fantasy, you really are living out childhood dreams. You arrive on set and you’re completely surrounded by a magical world. There were loads of supporting characters, and all you could see were elves. It’s just wild.”
Clark, who lives in London, has some other projects in the pipeline including a new horror film called Starve Acre and an updated take on Hamlet – she’s playing Ophelia opposite Riz Ahmed. “I’d love to do a Shakespeare where I survive,” she jokes.
As for dream roles or projects she looks closer to home. “I think North Wales is unexplored. I come from a farming family in North Wales and I think it’s a place that’s incredibly special and incredibly beautiful and quite separate to the rest of Britain in some ways. I would love to do some sort of Western set in North Wales.”
Murder is Easy is on BBC iPlayer from 6am on December 27, with episode one airing on BBC One that evening and episode two the following night