British actresses juggle genres ... and streaming services

When summertime TV and movies are at their silliest, we need some serious British moments. Fortunately, two streaming service are available. Here's the story I sent to papers, about the serv ices and the actresses.

By Mike Hughes

August, Americans can grumble about reruns and reality shows.

Or they can try a
handy solution to many problems: Turn to the British.

Two streaming
services offer huge troves of scripted British shows, past and
present. They are:

-- Acorn, the older
one. It's been around for 24 years (first via VHS) and has a huge

-- Britbox. It's
only in it second year, but its owners (BBC and ITV) provided a big

Acorn is now
pillaging the rest of the British empire, adding shows from
Australia, New Zealand and even Canada. Britbox remains “proudly
and unapologetically British,” said Soumya Sriraman, the channel's
president for North America. “We are the English channel of English

Both stream piles of
scripted dramas and comedies, low on special effects and high on
clever dialog delivered by gifted actors. Let's meet two who leap
between both channels and both genres.

-- Rachael Stirling
now stars in Britbox's “Bletchley Circle: San Francisco,” a
spin-off of a series that was on PBS. But she also co-stars in the
quiet comedy “The Detectorists,” in the Acorn library.

-- Joanna Scanlan
stars in “No Offence,” a brash cop show that brings its new
season Monday on Acorn. But she's also in Britbox's upcoming “Hold
the Sunset,”alongside comedy legend John Cleese.

The two are
opposites in many ways. Stirling is tall and thin; Scanlan is
neither. Stirling spent her teen years at boarding school; Scanlan
spent hers working at her parents' small hotel. “It helped my
writing, my storytelling,” she said. It let her overhear odd
stories and odd lives.

Scanlan 56, would
use that skill to create and star in “Getting On,” a hospital
comedy-drama that brought British nominations for her writing and her
acting. She almost starred in the American version on HBO, she said;
“then they found Alex Borstein, who was amazing.”

But she didn't start
writing until she was 30, in a career that has advanced gradually.

By comparison,
Stirling, 41 – the daughter of Dame Diana Rigg – started fast.
She was Desdemona for the National Youth Theatre and did her first
movie (“Still Crazy”) at 17, while in school. “I turned in my
thesis from the Winnebago” trailer on the movie lot.

A decade later, she
starred in “Tipping the Velvet,” doing passionate lesbian scenes.
That drew praise, but slowed her career. “Every script I got had me
taking off someone's knickers in the first 10 minutes .... I decided
to put my pride aside,” taking supporting roles in film and
starring ones onstage.

That has served her
well, including two nominations for London theater's Olivier Awards.
It's an art form that Dame Diana also masters. “I just saw her in
'My Fair Lady.' At 80, she's fantastic.”

One difference is in
parenting. Boarding school used to be standard for the children of
busy British actresses. Now Stirling is married and takes her
1-year-old to work “He's our mascot,” she said.

Now she has some
extra TV stardom: In “Bletchley,” Stirling and Julie Graham play
former World War II codebreakers who find new mysteries in San

By comparison,
Scanlan didn't expect starring roles, unless she wrote them herself.
Then her agent insisted she try for the “No Offence” lead. “Just
to shut her up, I agreed to do (the audition).”

She got the role,
complete with blonde wig and big attitude. The character has little
in common with her “Hold the Sunset” character, whose confidence
crumbles when she's back home. Stiill, she says, “Sunset” is
“closer to (playing) myself than a lot of roles I've had.”

That's British-style
acting – from Desdemona to knickers-grabbing to code-breaking, from
running a police station to being hesitent at home. It's the sort of
acting that propels the streaming services.

-- Britbox, Stirling's
“Bletchley Circle: San Francisco” has a new episode each
Thursday; Scanlan's “Hold the Sunset” is coming later this year.

-- Acorn, Scanlan's “No
Offence” arrives Monday (Aug. 6); three seasons of “The
Detectorists” (with Stirling in support) are in its library.

-- Both have monthly
fees, with a free trial period.