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Bertie Carvel tells how his own tragic loss mirrored that of his character

When Doctor Foster’s Bertie Carvel took on the role of Inspector Adam Dalgliesh for Channel 5’s remake of the hit detective series, he made a deep personal connection with the character. And his link to the fictional Met detective is heartbreaking: the loss of a loved one.

When we meet Dalgliesh in episode one, he mourns the loss of his wife and child a year earlier, and Bertie mourned too. “I’m not sure if I should talk about this,” he says softly.

“The story I was creating in Dalgliesh was about a year of grief, and it crossed my own experience in a challenging way. My mother passed away in November 2019, and it is that and the birth of my son that followed closely that are the hinges in my life.

“I won’t be the same in my work, so that was a challenge, but it was also healing and therapeutic.”

Bertie Carvel reveals how losing his mother helped him relate personally to Inspector Adam Dalgliesh, as he plays the detective in a Channel 5 remake of the series.  Pictured: Bertie, far left, as Dalgliesh with Jeremy Irvine as DS Masterson

Bertie Carvel reveals how losing his mother helped him relate personally to Inspector Adam Dalgliesh, as he plays the detective in a Channel 5 remake of the series. Pictured: Bertie, far left, as Dalgliesh with Jeremy Irvine as DS Masterson

Bertie’s mother Patricia, a psychologist separated from Bertie’s father, retired journalist John Carvel, died at age 80 after suffering a stroke and complications from surgery. However, the year 2019 was also life-changing for Bertie in a more favorable way.

In January, he married his girlfriend, actress Sally Scott. They had been dating since 2009 and she played Samantha Cameron in the 2015 TV movie Coalition in which Bertie appeared as Nick Clegg. Then, in the spring of 2020, they welcomed their first child Ernest.

“I know it’s a bit of a cliché that the detective has a restless emotional backwoods,” says Bertie.

“But I’ve personally dealt with this, and that’s what’s going on in the background for Dalgliesh. So whatever’s going on for him in the case, he’s also processing his own grief. And so his relationship to religion or belief or belief, or the lack thereof, comes into focus in a way that is somehow satisfying.’

In person Bertie, who received a first English language from the University of Sussex before attending RADA, is pensive and articulate and gives long, thoughtful answers to questions. He then seems perfectly cast as Dalgliesh, the cerebral, poetry-writing detective created by the late PD James, who wrote 14 Dalgliesh novels between 1962 and 2008.

They were made into a popular ITV series starring Roy Marsden which ran from 1983 to 1998, and the character was briefly revived by the BBC starring Martin Shaw between 2003 and 2005.

Bertie plays Dalgliesh in three two-part stories, beginning with an adaptation of the 1971 novel Shroud For A Nightingale, which centers on the murder of a student nurse at a residential university.

Joined by sidekick DS Charles Masterson (Jeremy Irvine), sparks fly as their chalk-and-cheese personalities create a strained relationship. From the third episode they are joined by DS Kate Miskin (Carlyss Peer).

The first episode is an adaptation of the 1971 novel Shroud For A Nightingale, which centers on the murder of a student nurse at a residential university.  Pictured: Alice Nokes plays nurse Pardoe, who lived with the victim

The first episode is an adaptation of the 1971 novel Shroud For A Nightingale, which centers on the murder of a student nurse at a residential university.  Pictured: Alice Nokes plays nurse Pardoe, who lived with the victim

The first episode is an adaptation of the 1971 novel Shroud For A Nightingale, which centers on the murder of a student nurse at a residential university. Pictured: Alice Nokes plays nurse Pardoe, who lived with the victim

“Masterson is everything Dalgliesh is not,” explains Bertie.

“He’s hot-headed where Dalgliesh is cool, judgmental where Dalgliesh is reserved. He is bigoted where Dalgliesh is liberal, and young where Dalgliesh is older. He looks fantastic where Dalgliesh is…” Bertie walks away laughing.

‘For Dalgliesh it’s about investing in someone, a kind of parental relationship. What they have in common is intelligence. Masterson is a good defender for Dalgliesh because he stirs the pot in a way that is not Dalgliesh’s style. He’s the agent’s provocateur.’

All three dramas are set in 1975, and despite the fact that Dalgliesh has no flares or a handlebar moustache, Bertie had fun with the historical detail. “I get to drive an extremely beautiful E-Type Jaguar, so I think I’ve definitely beaten Masterson on that score,” he says with a chuckle.

‘He drives some kind of Cortina! The cut of Dalgliesh’s suit wouldn’t look out of place today, but his overcoat is more ’50s, so he feels more of that slightly older world. Even though I don’t have long hair or messy teeth or a wooden leg, which I often have, it’s nice to make small adjustments that give your character.’

I usually don’t play the strong silent type

It’s been six years since Bertie rose to fame in Doctor Foster as Simon’s traitorous husband to Suranne Jones.

He has become known for playing “out there” characters – last year he was a menacing presence as Bob in The Sister, and creepy poisoner Zachariah Osbourne in the Agatha Christie adaptation The Pale Horse. He also won Olivier Awards in 2012 and 2018, for playing Miss Trunchbull in Matilda and Rupert Murdoch in Ink.

He is the first to admit that he likes to hide behind his makeup, and that playing the part as Dalgliesh – a character with no outward fabrications – was a challenge.

“Obviously, Doctor Foster’s success has been a huge game-changer for me, and I’m really proud of that,” he says.

“I’ve come to see myself as an actor. What we mean by that is a kind of painting in slightly brighter colors, playing people who are not the kind of straight, strong, quiet types that Dalgliesh is. The truth is, I definitely think that putting on a mask often gives you access to the truth and that’s why I enjoy those characters.”

But now he gets to hold the stage as the strong, silent detective. “I find it interesting to wear less at this point in my life,” he muses.

‘I definitely find it less comfortable, but worth it not to have all that stuff to hide behind. And this is one of those roles.”

Dalgliesh starts Thursday at 9 p.m. on channel 5.

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