Q&A: Ruth Sheen, who plays Lizzie Wilton in BBC First’s ‘Unforgotten’


Ruth Sheen is a London-born actress who began her career training at the East 15 Acting School, and has appeared regularly on British television and in British films since 1988.

What appealed to you about Unforgotten?

“They sent me the first three scripts to look at and when I read them I was like, ‘Oh my God, what happens next? I really want to play that character.’  That’s how I felt.  I was quite excited, which you don’t get very often.  Of course I then wanted to read the rest and I did. 

I really like the character of Lizzie Wilton, her story, the complexity of her and I loved the script and the way the four stories intertwine but never meet.  They have this link with the young man who went missing in 1976 and I found that very interesting.”

“The script is really special, it feels real.  That’s what I like about it.  The director, Andy Wilson, is brilliant and very easy to work with.  It’s just been a really lovely job.  We’ve all really enjoyed ourselves and you don’t always get that on jobs.  I really look forward to coming in to work.”

Does Unforgotten deal with sensitive issues?

“Different issues are raised throughout the series and everyone has a secret.  They all have something they have hidden in their past and they don’t want their loved ones to find out about.  Also, if you’ve carried a secret for 40 years it would be very difficult to finally tell someone about it.  If you’ve always covered it up and become who you are now.”

Who is Lizzie Wilton?

“Lizzie is a very energetic, late 50s woman who helps run a youth football team with her husband Ray (Brian Bovell) – a woman who has tried to encourage one of the young football players, Curtis (Ade Oyefeso), with his education. 

Curtis has a difficult family background.  She’s not taken the place of his mum, but she is encouraging him to do his exams and to learn.  So Lizzie comes across as quite optimistic, friendly and energetic.  Ade is a brilliant young actor.  He’s really got something about him.”

“Ray and Lizzie set up the football team after the death of their teenage son, Michael.  To lose a child is one of the worst things in the world and the team was part of their way of trying to do something positive after that terrible loss.  She has put all her energy into the football team and Curtis.”

The death of a child can sometimes lead to couples splitting up.

Lizzie and her husband Ray have a very strong relationship which survived the death of their son.  Instead of letting the death of a child consume you and kill you slowly from the inside, you try to be positive and use it as a motivation to help other youngsters.”

“Education is very important to her because of her upbringing and she sees something in Curtis that, if it’s nurtured, he could be somebody and not fall by the wayside.  It’s not a case of him being a surrogate son because she lost hers.  She cares about him and can see he could to somewhere.  Lizzie just wants to encourage him and supports him, and Curtis is receptive to that.  He’s bright and wants to get on an doesn’t want to go down that road of drugs and so on that his mates may be going down.”

Lizzie is one of the four characters linked to the young man who went missing in 1976.  Di you reflect on what you were doing then?

“Yes, in a funny sort of way I did.  I’d just passed my driving test in 1976.  I was never into punk.  I was more into flower power.  I remember going to drama school then and they said, ‘What do you hate?’ And I said, ‘The National Front.’  It was the only thing I could think of that I hated.  So they made me be a person in the National Front.  They brought a black guy in and I had to do this speech as a National Front supporter, which was horrendous.  The 1970s was a different world.”

Unforgotten focuses on a ‘cold’ murder case dating back some 40 years?

“You read about cases where someone is arrested for a murder that happened decades ago and you just think, ‘They have lived a whole life making out they were innocent.’ It was horrendous at the time but it almost seems more horrendous now.  The thought that somebody could live their whole life with that secret; how could you live with yourself?  How could you just get up and go to work? How could you forget about it?  I suppose the mind is a maze but it’s hard to understand.  How something like that would not consume you and play on your mind every single day of your life.”

All four characters linked to 1976 have a secret of some kind?

“Lizzie was very young when she first came to London and, obviously, has a past of some kind.  As do the other three.  I don’t like secrets.  I have people telling me their secrets.  I think, ‘Don’t burden me with secrets.’  Because it’s a responsibility if you know something, isn’t it?”

The nature of the story means you don’t film any scenes with Bernard Hill, Tom Courtenay or Trevor Eve

“I’ve seen Tom and just met Trevor today.  But all our hours are different.  We’re in make-up at different times.  I saw Frances Tomelty, who plays Maureen Sullivan.  We passed each other and had a long chat.  But I’ve not bumped into Bernard.  I would have likes to have done something with all of them but it’s just the nature of the story.  It happens all the time.”

Tell us about location filming

“We’ve filmed in central London, including on the South Bank by where they do the skateboarding.  There were quite a lot of tourists about taking photos but it was quite early in the morning before it got too busy.  We also filmed the football training scenes under the Westway flyover at Shepherd’s Bush.  That was a great location with the traffic going across, and also their house was a place at Kingston in Surrey.”

Tell us about working with Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar?

“Their on screen relationship has really grown.  As police officers they’ve definitely become a force to be reckoned with.  It’s a really good pairing with things going on in the background in both their lives.  That just adds to the whole series.  It’s not like a normal police drama.  It’s got lots more edges to it, which I found really interesting.”

Be sure to tune into Unforgotten, a brand new, six-part crime series coming to BBC First (DStv Channel 119) in July 2016.