Richard Curtis’ Love, Actually (2003) was for a long time a cultural yardstick of quintessentially ‘British’ cinema; packed full of the nations’ most popular actors of the day purely for the glee of seeing them all together onscreen, it was like some post-watershed Blighty Cinematic Universe knees-up. The casting of the main ensemble works as a cultural signifier – you know it to be self-reverentially British because it’s got Mr Bean, and that guy from The Office, and Curtis’ doomed svengali, Hugh Grant. But what if there was a cast member more ubiquitously British for her diligent, workhorse presence in this nation’s screen media? Someone who can count some of the top three terrestrial channels’ most well-known shows of this millennium on her CV, and epitomises the cultural phenomenon of pointing at the telly and saying “Oh, that’s whatsername”? I am talking of course about Nina Sosanya.
In Love, Actually Sosanya plays the Prime Minister’s private secretary Annie, a character famed for her exceedingly neutral personality up until she unexpectedly fat-shames Martine McCutcheon (wholesome Christmas fun!). Sosanya’s calm visage and steady gaze make her a good match for such a role; in fact these traits are what has allowed her to carve out a career as a reliable supporting act since her big TV break in 2001, starring as the icy Jenny Paige alongside Love, Actually co-star Andrew Lincoln in Channel 4’s Teachers (2001 – 2004). Two years after Love, Actually she once again played an exceedingly neutral secretary as Sasha in Nathan Barley (2005). Her ability to so artfully recreate the demeanour of a media drone is what has kept the paycheques rolling in over the years. She made a brief appearance in Twenty Twelve (2011 – 2012), a mock fly-on-the-wall bit about the organising committee for the 2012 Games and then was bumped up to a role in the main cast of its follow-up W1A (2014 – 2020). As a mockumentary about the inner workings of the BBC, filmed in its own offices and using its postcode for a title, is the BBC’s biggest circle-jerk to date.
Whatever extremely British telly you can think of, there shall Sosanya be. She’s had recurring roles in Killing Eve (2018 – 2022), Last Tango in Halifax (2012 – 2020) and Good Omens (2019 -). For years she has worked inches from the spotlight, only recently getting time to flex her acting muscles as Elaine, the mentally vulnerable mother of Will Parry in the BBC/HBO crossover His Dark Materials (2019 -). With its thematic reverence of academic free speech and individual thought, and vague ideas about social justice, it is a flagship representative of the BBC’s perceived liberal values. Unwittingly, Sosanya’s presence among more famous names has come to be a pillar upholding the Beeb and its content. Jon Snow may have insisted that the BBC would die without Paxo, but the real threat of ominous change ahead is if Nina Sosanya disappears from the small screen as mysteriously as she did from the third season of Teachers. Considering the licence fee issues and the internal gutting of progressive-minded departments by its new Director General, himself a former Tory advisor, the bell may toll for the Beeb sooner than we think.
In our perennially online world of shattered parasocial relationships, I am this year raising a JD and Diet Coke to the journeyman actors of this world. Those who forge ahead without the need for a sprawling, fawning fan-base. Here’s to the actors who dedicate themselves to building a show together amongst comrades rather than standout solo performances. And if you find yourself settling down in a haze of mince pies and gin to watch some box set or other, or even, heaven forfend, you venture onto BritBox, you’ll probably find a reminder nestled within that Nina Sosanya actually is all around.
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