Jenny Agutter has a self-possession born of almost four decades in the spotlight. The actress, who found herself on an express track to fame after starring in Edith Nesbit's The Railway Children at 18, says she was slightly apprehensive about her latest role.
Agutter now appears as the strong-minded Jane Clark, wife of the late, flamboyant Tory MP Alan Clark (played by John Hurt), in BBC FOUR's The Alan Clark Diaries. "I was thrilled about the role,'' she says. "The overall piece was extraordinarily well put together and written, and Jane was an intriguing character a little bit of an enigma in the script. I relied very heavily on meeting her and, initially, thought that the responsibility of portraying her was quite frightening."
The Somerset-born Agutter, who played MI5 boss Tessa in BBC ONE's spy drama Spooks, discovered that she and Jane shared a similar background of growing up in an Army family and leaving home for a boarding school education.
As the child of a British Army officer, Jenny's childhood was peripatetic, growing up Germany, Singapore, and Cyprus. When she was nine, she became a boarder at Elmhurst Ballet School in Surrey.
Agutter, 50-years-old with cool, green eyes, retains the delicately sculpted features and slender, straight-backed, dancer's poise that has graced numerous roles on stage and on screen.
After meeting Jane, Agutter recalls, "I felt I came across a woman who was extraordinarily energetic, amazingly youthful, very practical and seems to live very much in the present probably what has stood her in good stead throughout her life.
"Jane married at 16, so she went from one family to her own family she had her children young so her clear self-reliance comes from somewhere else; maybe the Army background and being at boarding school. Alan Clark must have seen her as this wonderful, vital young woman and somebody who was able to get on with things.
"The whole romantic idea of marrying someone and living in a castle must have been extraordinary at the age of 16, but then there's the running of the castle and the living there and the living with Alan Clark, all of which she just took on and did.
"When we were filming at Saltwood [the Clarks' castle], she was very forthright. She's quite open about what it was like to live with Alan she isn't inward-looking."
Jenny gained an insight into Jane, married to the controversial politician for 41 years until his death in 1999 at the age of 7l.
"She isn't somebody who delves into the emotional aspect of how difficult it all was; she's somebody who enjoyed the life she lived, had some pretty rough times when things were hitting the press, but dealt with it more straightforwardly than a lot of people would imagine.
Alan's liaisons with other women were grist for tabloids.. He once had affairs with a South African judge's wife and their two daughters three separate seductions which, inevitably, found their feverish way into the newspapers.
Jane simply scornfully told her husband: "If you bed people of below-stairs class, they will go to the papers."
"If she thought it was a bad lot, she would have walked out," Agutter said. "But I think she actually enjoyed her life; she enjoyed her time with Alan and felt secure in that relationship.
"She was angry at what happened, but wasn't eaten up by the anger and took it out on him instead. She has talked about throwing plates at him and has referred to him as an 'sh-one-t' [shit?].
"But she didn't feel, whoever he was having his infidelities with, that he was destroying their relationship by giving all of himself to somebody else. I think Jane had the whole Alan Clark and probably the other women had some element of him."
Filming at Saltwood in Kent lowered the drawbridge on a castle which combines grandeur with down-to-earth family life. "It's grand, but it's a castle on a small, intimate scale and really is a home," says Jenny. "It has no sense of being ritzy or glamorous, the glamour is in the history, not in the decoration; and the glamour is also in the most amazing collection of art, from Rodins to Picassos, Constables to Sargents.
"The castle is filled with paintings and books, but it isn't ostentatious. There is nothing that is displayed in a way that looks as though it's about money; it is all used and a part of it, with children's drawings up against priceless paintings, but there is a real history and that is what one is in awe of."
Jenny was also fascinated by both the history and politics of The Alan Clark Diaries.
"It was interesting to be involved in a piece that is historical, but with a modern flavour. It is talking about politics from the point of view of somebody who is slightly out of time who had a sense of history which I don't think politicians do today and I don't think they did in Alan Clark's time."
She likens Clark's diaries to Don Quixote: "They have the sense of someone out of time; someone with a sense of the grand in a world that isn't quite like that.
"He had a sense of history which came from his father (Lord Kenneth Clark, who brought the landmark series Civilisation to the BBC) and from living in a privileged world, which gives it lots and lots of layers."