Samantha on bonds that bind in war and peace...

Ruth Gemmell as Sarah King, Francesca Annis as Joyce Cameron and Samantha Bond as Frances Barden in Home Fires

Ruth Gemmell as Sarah King, Francesca Annis as Joyce Cameron and Samantha Bond as Frances Barden in Home Fires

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Samantha Bond leads a stellar female cast in new World War Two drama Home Fires. The former Miss Moneypenny tells Jeananne Craig why her latest role left her shaken and stirred.

The lack of film and TV roles for older actresses is often lamented, so Samantha Bond was delighted when she signed up for new ITV drama Home Fires.

It was absolutely thrilling to be among so many women,” the Downton Abbey star says of the six-part series, which follows a Women’s Institute branch in Cheshire at the start of the Second World War

“It was absolutely thrilling to be among so many women,” the Downton Abbey star says of the six-part series, which follows a Women’s Institute branch in Cheshire at the start of the Second World War.

“I’ve been banging on for the last five years about the invisibility of the middle-aged woman, and suddenly we went to a read-through and I’m going, ‘There are hundreds of us!’”

Redhead Bond, 53, who played Moneypenny to Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond in the late Nineties and early Noughties, adds: “It does feel like it’s been a long time coming. To be honest, I think if we were to look through the Radio Times or the TV Times, we would still find a huge male domination. But, touch wood, I’ll just be grateful, thank you.”

Meanwhile, news that 50-year-old Italian actress Monica Bellucci is set to be the oldest Bond girl yet, in the upcoming Spectre, is “thrilling”.

There are still “men of a certain age who get misty-eyed because of Moneypenny”, Bond admits, her piercing blue eyes twinkling.

But these days, she’s most often recognised by fans of Downton (in which she stars as Lord Grantham’s sister Lady Rosamund) and BBC comedy Outnumbered (playing Auntie Angela).

She’s hoping to add Home Fires – based on Julie Summers’ book Jambusters: The Story Of The Women’s Institute In The Second World War – to that list.

“I’m very, very proud of this,” says the actress. “It was one of the happiest shoots I’ve ever been involved in.”

Bond plays Frances, a strong-willed WI member in Great Paxford (“you know she’s a modern woman because she wears trousers quite a lot,” she quips), who locks horns with the local branch’s conservative president, Joyce (Francesca Annis) as war looms.

When Joyce resigns and takes most of the group with her, Frances and her supporters must round up some new members, and a power struggle between the two women ensues.

As the series continues, we also see the impact of war on the village, and the WI’s vital support role on the home front – from growing vegetables to collecting salvage.

“If I’m completely honest,” London-born Bond confesses, “there was a bit of me that thought it was going to be a series about women making jam, and I thought, ‘Is this really where we’re going in 2015?’

“But the lovely thing about the scripts and the story is what the onset of war does to a community – the tearing apart of a community and the coming together of a community. And the strength that the women find in each other. It’s the emotional bit that got me.”

That’s not to say there’s no jam-making; quite the contrary. “We had all the proper 1939 equipment and you had to be very careful not to burn yourself, because jam gets very, very hot. But it was great,” Bond recalls, smiling.

“The day that was really fun was the day we collected the blackberries. We had this stunning weather.”

And while she and Annis share some “sparky” scenes on the show, off-camera, the cast got on swimmingly. We are becoming this terrible sisterhood,” Bond says of her co-stars. “We keep having reunions.”

Period pieces come naturally to the Downton star, whose first TV gig was a 1983 TV adaptation of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.

“I’ve always done quite a lot in a corset,” she admits, joking that the reason must be her “very straight back”.

Bond is the daughter of The Onedin Line actor Philip, and actress and producer Pat Sandys. Molly and Tom, her grown-up children with actor husband Alexander Hanson, have also followed her into the profession.

And while Downton creator Julian Fellowes recently announced that the next series will be the last, Bond reveals there’s another career she could pursue.

“When I was a teenager I loved maths, and I used to do quadratic equations to calm myself down. I used to have dreams about teaching maths to young children,” she reveals. “I’d work out in my dream how you explained long division, which is quite a hard one. So that’s an alternative career that I may yet fall back on.”

Home Fires begins on ITV on Sunday, May 3