TV preview: Utopia

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With her porcelain skin, piercing blue eyes and vintage style, Alexandra Roach regularly finds herself cast in costume dramas.

“I’ve got that face - people put me in period stuff,” the Welsh actress says with a mock sigh. “When am I not in a wig or a corset?”

She’s been a young Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, a countess in Anna Karenina and played First World War women in Private Peaceful and upcoming drama Testament Of Youth.

So the role of student Becky in ultra-modern Channel 4 conspiracy thriller Utopia, which returns for a second series this month, makes a refreshing change.

“I wouldn’t say it was easier [than costume drama],” the actress says in her Carmarthenshire lilt. “Especially in series two, there’s more emotional stuff that happens to my character. But it’s very different, and that’s why I love this job.”

In series one of the complex drama, we saw Becky and fellow members of an online comic book forum discover a cult graphic novel manuscript - and then go on the run from a shadowy organisation known as The Network, who wanted its contents kept secret.

At the climax of the series, the identity of The Network’s head, Mr Rabbit, was revealed as MI5 spy Milner (played by Geraldine James), along with what was meant to be hidden within the pages of the manuscript.

Initially thought to be the coding to Janus, the Network’s virus designed to stem global overpopulation via mass sterilisation, the graphic novel in the end acted only as bait to bring the group’s reclusive guardian angel, Jessica Hyde (Fiona O’Shaughnessy), out of hiding.

Believing The Network to be defeated, Becky abandoned the group as she desperately tried to find a cure for a degenerative disease she suffers from, and Milner played one final card: capturing Hyde and the secrets to the Janus virus, which in the final seconds was revealed as being concealed within Hyde’s own DNA.

As series two begins, we see Becky reunited with her friend and love interest Ian (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), and the show also goes back in time to learn about the origins of Milner’s network.

“I read the scripts for series two on my bed like, ‘Oh my God’. It’s an incredible journey,” Roach, 26, enthuses.

“We shot for four months and we had this mad schedule. It takes a lot of time to shoot, so there’s not much time to mess about on set - you have to get to it.

“To unwind, we’d just hang out and chill. We found out that [Japanese restaurant] Wagamama delivered, and it was downhill from there,” she adds, joking that perhaps her role should have involved a corset after the takeaways.

The series is shot in a very distinctive way - all vibrant colours and quirky camera angles, not to mention graphic violence - which took some getting used to for the cast.

“We didn’t have really a clue that that was going on [in series one],” Roach says of the stylised approach.

“We thought it was taking ages to set the lights and the camera, and then we watched the series and were like, ‘Ahhh, that’s what they were doing’. And they haven’t compromised on that for series two.”

“We had eight months between series one and two, and I was hoping that character was still in me somewhere after doing loads of other stuff.”

Once she’d donned Becky’s clothes and filming began, however, the fear lifted.

Her passion for the show is palpable and she confesses to “hounding” Utopia creator Dennis Kelly to find out his plans for a potential third series.

“As always, he’s got mad ideas kicking around his head, so hopefully we’ll be back. I’d love another one.”

Utopia, Channel 4, Monday and Tuesday 10pm

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