‘The Larkins’ interview: Sabrina Bartlett chats about playing Mariette

Bridgerton actress Sabrina Bartlett is starring in ITV’s new version of The Darling Buds of May.

Based on the original novels by H.E. Bates, the six-part comedy-drama comes from the creator of The Durrells.

The Larkins is set in the late 1950’s and follows the golden-hearted wheeler dealer Pop Larkin and his wife Ma, together with their six children, as they bask in their idyllic and beautiful patch of paradise in Kent.

Bradley Walsh (Law & Order UK) and Joanna Scanlan (The Thick of It) lead the cast as Pop and Ma.

They’re joined by Sabrina Bartlett (Game of Thrones) as Mariette Larkin, and Tok Stephen (Silent Witness) as Cedric ‘Charley’ Charlton.

Watch the trailer:


The official synopsis reads: “Fiercely loyal to each other and their community, each Larkin family member has a strong work ethic, alongside a disinterest in authority.

“In the idyllic and beautiful Kent countryside, known as the Garden of England, The Larkins have achieved a small patch of paradise where nothing is wasted and they enjoy life to the full.

“There’s an overwhelming sense of plenty in their lives and a lot of joy and raucous laughter, as Ma Larkin provides a seemingly endless supply of delicious, hearty meals. And no matter what time of day, The Larkins and their guests aren’t averse to enjoying the odd cocktail or two!”

The Larkins premiered last night in the UK.

Here Sabrina Bartlett discusses her favourite scenes, the family dynamic, and Mariette’s relationship with Charley…


Did you enjoy filming The Larkins?

“I’m having the most glorious time. I mean look at where we are, we have the most amazing cast and we have an array of very eccentric animals from donkeys to cows to kittens. I’m just having the most wonderful summer, it’s been amazing.

“The Larkins’ house is in rural Kent and there’s the most beautiful lake in the garden

“I grew up in Kent riding horses with my big sister, so when I read the scripts I felt such a connection to the role and her environment, you know, riding horses and running around bare foot with my sister and auditioning for it and reading for the role I just felt I understood her world completely. And getting to do that on screen and being able to tell her story has been amazing.

“Talking of horses, there is a lot of horse riding on this job which I’ve absolutely loved. Prior to The Larkins I actually took lots of riding lessons at my local school in London just because I think for a role that requires so much riding I really wanted to feel safe and comfortable.

“In terms of Mariette’s character, it’s one of the joys I think Simon Nye has given in that he’s empowered Mariette that she has all these physical aspects of the character, like the horse riding, like the strawberry fields when she gets into a cat fight.

“She’s not afraid to speak her mind and she’s a robust girl who’s grown up lifting hay bales and mucking out the stables. And that’s something for me as an actor that I’ve absolutely adored, I’ve really thrown myself into and I’ve had such joy doing.

“I feel very lucky to be playing this character and to be in this amazing world that Simon Nye has created for us here at the farm. And I think there’s something so pure in the escapism and humour of the Larkins family.”


Have you had any favourite scenes or lines as Mariette?

“I think what’s really interesting about Simon Nye’s adaptation of the original books is that he’s maintained the escapism and innocence and bounteous splendour of the novels, but I think he’s refreshed the novels in this new take that we are creating.

“And I think while there’s so much wholesomeness and heart and humour, there’s also some really beautiful themes such as the conflict of leaving home, falling in love for the first time and I think those are things that people will watch and relate to and also be quite moved by and also it will tickle them as well I think.

“I think for me the physical aspects of Mariette’s character is something that I’ve enjoyed playing the most.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in corsets in my time on period sets and this is the first time that most of my scenes I get to wear riding jodhpurs and riding boots, I get to lift hay bales, I get to muck out stables, I get to do things like getting into cat fights and she’s just such a physical character which I think is just a treat for any actor to get to learn all these new skills.

“I actually spent some time at Spitalfield City Farm as a volunteer ahead of the job to understand how farming worked and to be able to learn how to do things like hammering a fence with a sledgehammer, that’s one of my favourite scenes actually because I got to kind of enjoy throwing a sledgehammer around which was very good fun.”


Tell us about the period that The Larkins is set in…

“I just love Mariette because I think she’s both glamorous when she wants to be, she can put on a pair of heels, don on a bit of lipstick and put on a beautiful dress.

“But then equally she is running around bare foot, she’s mucking out, she’s getting her hands stuck into all the farming.
We’ve got some really beautiful, very unassuming costumes which I think reflect her way of life and her sort of purpose and her energy and I’ve just loved her look.”


Tell us a bit more about Mariette and where we find her in the story…

“I think we encounter Mariette at a very interesting point in her life, she’s lived her whole life in this beautiful and very eccentric place where she knows everybody’s names, she knows the milkman’s daughter to the school teacher and I think she’s got to a point in her adolescence where she’s so hungry to discover herself and to see what else is out there and to meet new people.

“And she’s got this amazing idea of going to Paris and discovering herself and the glamour of a different country, different language, different culture, different food.

“And she lands the bombshell on Ma and Pop that she’s going to spread her wings and leave the nest. And Ma and Pop are completely horrified and they decide to do what they can to convince her to stay.

“And at the same time ironically lots of new things suddenly happen in the village such as the tax inspector suddenly coming who happens to be very charming and actually quite fun and sort of turns Mariette’s head. And equally Tom Fisher who also arrives in the village who’s incredibly handsome…”


Tell us a little bit about the dynamic with Pop and Ma Larkin…

“The Larkin family are quite eccentric and also quite forward thinking for their time. Pop Larkin is quite outrageous and also very charming in his methods of selling and dealing in the village. But at the heart of him lies a man who I think is very generous and has this extraordinary ability to make everybody feel safe and also very happy at the same time, which I think Bradley does incredibly well.

“And then you’ve got Ma who is the fortress of the house, who is… she’s formidable when she has to be, but then equally she’s full of joy and I think that’s something that Jo does beautifully, she has this wonderful rippling laugh that just… you hear in the house and it just instantly tickles you.

“And I think Mariette has been brought up with quite good principles, you know, she speaks what’s on her mind, she’s not afraid to stand up for people and she’s also… she’ll use her mouth but also her fists as we see in episode four in the strawberry fields when she falls out with Pauline and they have this amazing fight where they get covered in strawberries and hay.

“But Mariette would do anything for her family and I think that’s something that audiences will really recognise and also love about her, because she’s loyal to her core and she’d do anything for them.

“Which is why I think the conflict of her leaving home is so difficult. Because on the one hand she loves family life, loves Larkin life, but equally she wants to spread her wings like young people do and she wants to discover herself and see what else is out there and I think that’s something that’s quite moving also quite liberating for her to do, especially at that time in the late 50s.”


How would you describe The Larkins?

“Jam tarts, eccentricity, piglets, sour dough loaves, eggs on toast, jodhpurs, horse poo, Primrose reading a book in the barn, romantic kisses in the bluebells.

“I’d say The Larkins is a dose of heart-warming wholesome goodness.

“I think in a world governed by iPhones, everything’s so quickly accessible to us these days we can fly wherever we want, we can access amazing food, we have the internet and I think Larkin life depicts a much simpler purer existence. The home, the family, there’s no internet, there’s no Google and I think living somewhere like rural Kent and being in beautiful nature, being surrounded by bluebells.

“I think animals teach us an awful lot as well and I think there’s something very simple and unfiltered about life surrounded by animals and nature and the heart of the family and I think that’s something that I certainly, doing this job, have really enjoyed being a part of. It’s been really heavenly.”


Does Mariette get on with the villagers?

“I think one of the key relationships Mariette has in the village is with Miss Chand, the school teacher and her brother the Brigadier who are quite forward thinking and they’re very cultured, they’ve travelled, they’ve been in the world and they’re the only two really that Mariette seeks out to talk to when she first has this idea of leaving home and she’s told her family about it and it’s been met with such a bad response because obviously they want to keep her there, they love having her, she’s the eldest member of the family and it breaks their hearts to imagine her leaving.

“One of the most interesting and fun relationships I think Mariette has is with her arch nemesis in the village, Pauline, who was formerly her best friend and now for whatever reason, we don’t actually know in this series, they are no longer friends and they’re very, very competitive when it comes to the village boys.

“Pauline and Mariette are very competitive, they always have been from a young age and what I love about the show is that Pauline rides around the village on her Vespa and Mariette rides around the village on her horse.

“And what we see in the first episode is Mariette and Pauline meeting like cowboys, both in their territory, I’m on my saddle and she’s on her Vespa, which by the way the horse was very well behaved about, which was a relief.

“I think Pauline feels that Mariette maybe thinks she’s a bit above herself by having this dream of going to Paris and then she also has caught the affections of both Tom Fisher, who’s new to the village and the tax inspector, Charley, who’s new to the village.

“So that sort of provokes a play for competing for both their affections which comes to a head in the strawberry fields in episode four when we have a cat fight.

“One of my favourite scenes I think to shoot for the Larkins has been my cat fight I have with Pauline in the strawberry fields in episode four.

“We’d just had some cake during our lunch break, had cups of tea and we’re both going, oh, you know, lets get a bit of energy up for this fight, yeah. Cut to ten minutes later, the whole thing was a blur, I don’t really remember it, although I suddenly remembered feeling this pain in the top of my brow.

“And I realised that by the evening I had a black eye, which was absolutely amazing and one of the things that I’m most proud about in my acting career has been to achieve a black eye from a cat fight. And neither of us really remember the fight because we were so into it and it was just so much fun.

“We had strawberries everywhere, hay, everybody was screaming, we didn’t even hear the director say cut because we were both so into it. But it was definitely one of my favourite scene to date to shoot on anything ever, I loved it.”


Did you have a stunt coordinator?

“There was a stunt coordinator coordinating the fight, but to be honest Natalie and I took it into our own hands and we just had so much fun, we’re using our elbows, using our hands, grabbing a hunk of hair, biting each other, it was brilliant.

“But we had such a good time, we were shooting in amazing weather amongst all the strawberries which was also just, it was pure joy and absolutely hilarious, we loved it.”


Tell us about Mariette’s relationship with Charley…

“I think what Mariette most admires and is most curious about with Charley is his honesty and his innocence in the village. He doesn’t come with big ideas, he doesn’t try to be impressive or mysterious.

“What he offers her is honesty and heart and I think he really respects her and sometimes is quite frightened of her, you know, she’s very impressive to him, riding on her horse and she says what she thinks and she doesn’t pander to him in any way and she is playful with teasing him.

“I think she’s very touched by his innocence and his goodness and he’s also very funny. Because he’s in this environment having, you know, spent most of his days in an office wearing a suit and then suddenly he’s plunged into chaos, he’s got five people offering him fish and chips, goose, ketchup, seven different types of cocktails and I think what’s really lovely is that the Larkins really take him into their hearts.

“And what I think is really beautiful in the story is how over the course of the series Charley really does become a Larkin. And of course it’s the first time I think for Charley and Mariette that they fall in love, which is really beautiful to see and also quite funny to see.

“And also your heart really goes out to Charley because there’s so many moments where he tries to win her affections or to explain how he feels in all these comical ways that always end up going catastrophically wrong.

“And I think Mariette finds it incredibly endearing, but also quite difficult, because she’s trying to keep her eyes ahead of her on her journey in discovering herself and leaving the village. But the more she gets to know Charley and the more time she spends with him, the more
difficult it is for her to still stick to her plans and stick to her idea of leaving home.”


The Larkins continues at 8pm on Sunday evenings on ITV, and will air in the US in 2022.

The complete original The Darling Buds of May series is available on DVD on Amazon.