AT FIRST sight Will Tudor and Poppy Lee Friar are not obvious casting as skating legends Torvill and Dean. He’s blonder and finer-featured than Christopher Dean; she’s a slip of a thing compared even with Jayne Torvill. But put them on the ice, in purple costumes, and a kind of magic happens. Suddenly we’re back in 1984 and the nation is mesmerised watching Britain’s finest embed Ravel’s Bolero in the national psyche.
Well, maybe not the whole nation. But the viewing figures for their Olympic gold medal-winning routine peaked at 24million-plus, numbers that are the stuff of fantasy now. And Friar and Tudor are tracing the rise of the ice legends from humble Nottingham beginnings to the nation’s sporting heroes.
There’s some clever camerawork but, give the actors their due, they do a good job of convincingly swirling in purple. Surprisingly, they were pretty much skating virgins before filming started. ‘I’d been twice,’ says Tudor with a grimace as he remembers spending more time with his backside on the ice than his feet. ‘One of those was for a date, which, come to think of it, is a pretty daft thing to do if you’re not much of a skater. Still, a good way to break the ice!’
Neither Tudor nor Friar was born when Torvill and Dean were in their prime. He’s 31 and best-known for his role as Olyvar in Game Of Thrones (including a candle-lit full-frontal in the show’s early years) and in Humans as heartbreaking synth Odi, roles both suited to his not-quite-of-this-world look. She’s 23 and known for roles in CBBC drama Eve and C4 school saga Ackley Bridge. This is a big break for both.
Did they feel the pressure, playing real people who were watching in the wings? ‘They were very kind and said we had to feel free to put our own spin on things,’ says Friar. ‘They gave us some tips on how it should look.’ ‘It was such an intense shoot we didn’t really have time to think about that,’ says Tudor. ‘It’s only afterwards you think, “Did that happen?”’
They modestly play down their skating skills. ’We were never going to be as good as Chris and Jayne but we tried to make it look as good as we could. I can spin on one leg now,’ says Friar, proudly.
The skating is one element of a film about a pair who, for all their celebrity, remain private. ‘Jayne was a little shy when she was young but she really wanted to express herself,’ says Friar. ‘She found that on the ice when she was skating. But there was something missing until she was paired up with Chris Dean. He liberated her. He had this passion for skating which she hadn’t seen before.’
There was much paper talk at the time of whether Torvill and Dean were doing the Bolero off the ice as well as on it — take a look at the routine, it’s pure sex from foreplay to climax — and the film tip-toes around the subject. Tudor has his own take on their relationship. ‘They feel like soulmates,’ says Tudor. ‘It’s a combination so tight, they were greater together than when they were alone. They were able to read each other on the ice.’
He relished the physical challenge of the role. ‘I’ve always really enjoyed the movement side of acting. But skating is like learning to walk all over again.’
Did they find this brush with sporting history inspiring? ‘You become very familiar with the choreography when you do it over and over and you can’t help but marvel at how they were able to do these extraordinary things,’ says Tudor.
‘Experiencing the dedication that was required to be able to reach the level they did is really inspiring. We’re in another creative art but it makes you aspire to be like that.’
He doesn’t look at Friar to see if she agrees, he knows. They are in perfect sync, just like the Bolero routine itself.
Stephen Tompkinson doesn’t get his skates on
You play Jayne Torvill’s father, George…
‘Yes, he’s absolutely lovely. He used to work at Raleigh in the factory in Nottingham. And he did nothing but encourage his daughter. He didn’t really understand the intricacies of it all but he could see how passionate she was about it and wanted her to follow that dream. In his life and his generation, the future was pretty much mapped out for you. You either went down the pit or you worked in one of the factories around Nottingham. I think he could see that there was a different spark about Jayne.’
Do you skate?
‘I have never put a pair of ice skates on. It’s one of those things actors can’t get insurance for. That and skiing. So that’s put me off. The first thing I said to Billy Ivory, who wrote the script, was, “Is there any ice skating involved?”. He said “No”. I said “I’m in”.’
Did you watch the legendary 1984 performance?
‘Yes. I was in drama school at the time and there was a group of us in the common room gathered round the TV. Because it was brilliant, it united the country. It was such an amazing interpretation. Before that, as far as I remember, in ice skating there used to be three separate bits of music that had different tempos in it. This was the first time I recall anyone had used just one piece of music. It was a mixture of ballet, theatre and dance and it was incredible.’ RUTH GAUKRODGER
■ Torvill And Dean is on ITV on Christmas Day at 9pm