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EVENING STANDARD – The British actress, 28, said that taking on the role of Elizabeth Layton in the new biopic was a refreshing change following turns on the big screen in Baby Driver and Cinderella and in TV shows Downton Abbey and War And Peace.

“It was just really great for me and refreshing to play a character where her storyline wasn’t about falling in love with a man and getting engaged and married,” she told the Standard.

“It was about a woman who was ferociously dedicated and she adored Churchill. She was aware that she was in the presence of this great man, but her focus was her work and getting it right and being a really crucial part of the whole war effort.”

She stars opposite Gary Oldman, who has been nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance as Churchill, and Dame Kristin Scott Thomas, who plays his wife, Clementine.

James said: “With Clemmie she was right there with him all the way through, his support, his courage, and gave him the strength to be the leader that he was. And with Elizabeth and all the other women who worked down in the War Rooms, they were right there, without them things wouldn’t have happened: telegrams wouldn’t have been sent, speeches wouldn’t have been written.”

Playing a real-life character felt like a much bigger responsibility than a fictitious role, she said.

“It’s feels similar to when I play literary characters because you have this book of information and you know what their thoughts are because you can read it,” she explained.

“In a way when you’re playing a character in a book you don’t want to let down the readers and the people who have imagined this character and then with playing a real-life person you think that her children might watch the film so you don’t want to do her an injustice — it feels very important.”

Darkest Hour is directed by Joe Wright, the British filmmaker behind Atonement and 2005’s Pride & Prejudice.

James said: “Initially I started talking about the film because I was so excited about the prospect of working with Joe Wright. He’s someone I really looked up to and Gary Oldman as Churchill is an insanely brilliant thing. Then I started reading Elizabeth Layton’s book and I was so drawn to her and her experiences and this different perspective on Churchill, it was a much more intimate view of him from her eyes. She was an incredible woman, so dedicated and committed to Churchill. She was witnessing history unfold and was the first person to hear these speeches, so it was a real thrill.”

Darkest Hour is out on January 12.

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