Remember Doctor Foster? Well, the writer is back with a spin-off. Georgia Humphreys chats to stars Victoria Hamilton and Alison Steadman.

Let’s admit it; we don’t like watching TV shows about people who have everything all figured out.

We like seeing characters with messy lives, who we can relate to.

That’s one reason why Victoria Hamilton, 39, thinks her new BBC One drama, Life, is going to appeal to audiences.

“There are hundreds of different elements to this story, there are elements which are thriller-like, elements that really make you laugh, elements that are just heart-breaking, and it shifts very quickly between those, all of the time,” elaborates the Wimbledon-born actress, on set earlier this year.

“And I also genuinely think they’re characters which people will want to follow. They are looking for a solution to their lives – which we all are, in some way.”

The writer behind Life is Mike Bartlett, and there’s a reason you’ll recognise his name.

His 2015 series, Doctor Foster, starring Suranne Jones, was hugely successful, winning the New Drama award from the National Television Awards, and drawing in massive audiences (the second series, which aired in 2017, had an average of 8.9 million viewers).

Now to get to the really exciting bit; Life follows Anna, played by Victoria Hamilton, who was Doctor Foster’s neighbour.

As she is now looking to build a new life, following from her divorce from ex-husband Neil (who also appears later on in the series), Anna is now known as Belle.

She is a resident of a large house in Manchester which is divided into four flats, and there lies the premise of Life; four different stories which unfold and intertwine in surprising ways.

“Belle is a Pilates teacher who is fairly recently divorced and, as everybody in this piece is, is struggling,” notes Hamilton, who also played the Queen Mother in the first two series of Netflix hit, The Crown.

“She’s at a point in her life where all of the challenges seem to have piled in all at once and she finds herself in this position where, when she actually needs to be completely on her own, totally self-sufficient and she’s looking after herself, she gets sort of pulled back into the past, in a way.

“She has a younger sister who is very troubled, who she spent a large part of the early life looking after, and she gets sucked back into her sisters’ world. also ends up also being responsible for her sisters’ daughter, so her niece kind of crashes into her life.”

Through Hamilton and three of her neighbours, Life explores love, loss, birth, death, the ordinary, the extraordinary and everything in between.

There’s David (Adrian Lester), who is happily married to Kelly (Rachael Stirling), but is conflicted by temptation when he meets the impulsive Saira (Saira Choudhry) on holiday.

Meanwhile, heavily pregnant Hannah (Melissa Johns) – who is happily coupled up with safe and stable Liam (Joshua James) – has her plans upended by the return of Andy (Calvin Demba), with whom she had a passionate one-night stand nine months previously…

And Gail (Alison Steadman), married to Henry (Peter Davison), is about to celebrate her 70th birthday when a chance encounter throws her whole life into question.

“She meets an old schoolfriend; they’ve not seen each other for 50 years and this woman remembers Gail as a different person when they were at school together,” explains 74-year-old Steadman, perhaps best known in recent years for her role in Gavin and Stacey.

“She says Gail was much more lively. She was a real clown of the school, she would tell jokes, she was adventurous. She was the one everyone looked up to, thought was funny. And then suddenly here’s this little classy lady who’s very quiet, whose husband talks over her.

“Henry thinks he’s just being the very energetic, professional guy he is, the life and soul of the party, telling jokes. He tends to not listen to Gail, and I think over the years she’s got into that thing where she’s gone under the radar and let him do all the chatting at parties and all the rest of it.

“This woman points out a few things to Gail that make her go, ‘Maybe I have been a bit silly to let this happen’ And so, she rebels.”

Discussing her character’s sudden change in behaviour, Liverpool-born Steadman reflects on how she found her own 70th birthday a particularly significant one.

“You do feel very different at 70 than your 40th, your 50th, your 60th. You think, ‘Gosh how many years do I have left?’ so you do start to think, ‘Maybe I should branch out and do this…’

“I do value every day of my life, probably much more than I did years ago,” she continues thoughtfully.

“I’ve got a little grandson now… Everyone will tell you on set, I’ve bored people sideways with pictures and they have to put with that because I can’t help it!

“But that makes a big difference, and Gail and Henry have got a little grandson who’s four, and so I can identify with that. She’s really thrilled to have this little grandson.”

Steadman reflects on how “lovely” it is to have such a big storyline in a drama at her and Davison’s age.

“Thank god writers have suddenly woken up and gone: ‘Do you know, there are interesting stories about people in their 60s? People don’t suddenly stop living when they get to a certain age, and so there are interesting things to discover and talk about’,” she quips.

Meanwhile Hamilton – who has worked with Bartlett before, including playing the lead role in his 2017 play, Albion, at London’s Almeida Theatre – just feels incredibly lucky he keeps offering her parts.

“For some reason, the words Mike writes seem to fit in my mouth right,” she enthuses.

“I find his stuff very immediate and very present. I just think he’s an extraordinary writer – and it’s getting better and better and better.

“I love the fact his writing can pull you in and you can experience something that’s safe; it can make you feel quite cosy at the beginning, watching Mike’s stuff. And then it just hits you in the face in the way that brilliant drama is meant to. He really can do that to audiences.

“He can genuinely shock you and scare you; just at the point you’re thinking, ‘I know what I’m watching, I’m alright’, something just goes bang in your face which is an absolute truth about all of us. And he also does that extraordinary humour and warmth.”

Life starts on BBC One on Tuesday, September 29.