Fit for a King

Fit for a King

By Michael Pickard
April 19, 2024


British actor Anjli Mohindra tells DQ about taking the lead for the first time in folk-horror crime drama The Red King, in which she plays a by-the-book detective who picks up the unsolved case of a missing boy while confronting an island community with a unique cult history.

Anjli Mohindra has travelled across time and space in Doctor Who spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures, kept viewers on the edge of their seats in thriller Bodyguard, played a submarine medic on board Vigil and tackled time loops in sci-fi drama The Lazarus Project.

Now she’s set to take the lead for the first time in The Red King, a folk-horror crime drama commissioned by UKTV’s Alibi.

In the six-part series, created and written by Toby Whithouse (Being Human), Mohindra plays smart, capable and by-the-book Grace Narayan, a city police sergeant who is forced into a ‘punishment posting’ on the small, antiquated island of St Jory. There she picks up the forgotten and unsolved case of a missing teenage boy, Cai.

To crack the case, she must overcome scarce evidence, an eccentric band of locals who resist Grace’s devotion to the law, and the island’s strange cult history – one that involves an eerie devotion to a pagan god called the Red King and the cult of the True Way.

“It was definitely the biggest stretch I’ve had as an actor, and the most creatively fulfilling role I’ve had to do,” she tells DQ ahead of the show’s launch on April 24. “I’d always dreamed of playing a lead at some point in my career and it exceeded my expectations because the level of collaboration. You just have a very different dialogue with the director when you’re in every single day. And because you’re living and breathing that character every single day, there’s a blurred line between you and them by the midway point. It was an incredible challenge. I really loved it so much.”

Anjli Mohindra as police sergeant Grace Narayan in The Red King

In the show, produced by Quay Street Productions and distributed by ITV Studios, Grace is forced out from her inner-city job after an apparent whistleblowing incident – more details of which will be revealed later in the series – that leads her to fall out of favour with her colleagues. Then when she is consigned to St Jory, Grace finds herself in a place that has seemingly little regard or use for the law she so desperately tries to uphold.

Her decision to reopen the case into Cai’s disappearance then causes her to get on the wrong side of Gruffudd Prosser (Mark Lewis Jones). The cast also includes Sam Swainsbury as Father Douglas Carrisford, Marc Warren as Dr Ian Prideaux, Jill Halfpenny as Ann Fletcher, Adjoa Andoh as Lady Heather Nancarrow and James Bamford as Grace’s island police colleague Owen.

As number one on the call sheet, Mohindra was on set every day, with Grace appearing in almost every scene. And during the course of filming, which wrapped last September, she was subjected to being thrown into rivers and blasted with water from fire engine hoses that were used to replicate torrential rain.

“This character is written so brilliantly, so I was thinking, ‘I’ve just got to not fuck that up,’” the actor says. “I just hoped that when I brought my physical body to it, I served it in a way that people engage with and can relate to. There’s a fear over doing it justice when you feel like you’re carrying a lot of the weight, but the rest of the cast are so incredible. You’ve got some real British TV legends thrown in with some really exciting new actors as well. I had nothing to worry about. Everyone made the job so easy.”

The blend of gritty police investigation and The Red King’s “eerie and chilling” elements of pagan horror immediately drew Mohindra to the project. She compares it to HBO crime series True Detective in the way that at the show’s heart is a crime story, but one that is elevated beyond a standard murder mystery by heightened genre elements.

Set on a fictional island, the series was filmed in North East England

“The characters are all so well rounded,” she says. “It’s very rare to have that many three-dimensional characters in a piece. Quite often, some of the characters just feel like they’re filler, they’re there as exposition. But you never get that sense in this show at all.

“Toby is so masterful that the whole world just sprung off the page. I was so immersed in it, and I was determined to find out who was behind it all as a reader. It was one of those [jobs] where I was like, ‘I really want to get this. This would be a dream.’ Grace is so complex as well.”

Grace’s posting to St Jory – the fictional island is said to be off the coast of Wales – appears to be an attempt to force her out of the police. But rather than let her new surroundings get her down, she attempts to enforce the law across the island, breaking up rowdy parties and dealing with other incidents to which her predecessors have turned a blind eye.

“Her turbulent upbringing has meant she finds safety and security in the rigidity of policing methods,” Mohindra explains. “Normally, police officers in TV shows do things they’re not meant to. They investigate outside of hours; they pursue a suspect when they’re not supposed to. But Grace does none of that. She’s so utterly devoted to the church of policing that she won’t even enter someone’s room without permission or a warrant. She really wants to do things by the book, and that’s so rare.

“She is frustrating in a way. She’s a proper by-the-book jobsworth. But that’s just because she believes in order, because without it there’s chaos.”

The actor also resonated with the portrayal of the racial attitudes Grace encounters from some of the St Jory locals.

Grace finds herself investigating the unsolved case of a missing boy

“As an ethnic minority woman, as a brown woman, I’ve been to loads of places where people haven’t encountered someone who is from an ethnic minority community,” she continues. “Most people are really amazing about it, but sometimes people are intrigued. They’re in awe. It’s a nice feeling like, ‘Wow, I didn’t realise I was so intriguing to you.’ It feels so authentic in this piece – it reminds me of the film Get Out, which I really love. It’s that kind of racial horror.”

Through Grace, viewers get to explore St Jory and see some of the island’s eccentricities, not least a masked parade that marks the end of the tourist season. But wary of social interaction, she refuses – at least initially – to let her guard down.

“As human beings, we need social interactions and human connection to survive, but Grace has done very well without that for a very long time,” Mohindra notes. “She thinks she’s fine. But what she needs more than anything is a community and friendships. However, what’s difficult is, as life continues on St Jory, her own sanity is being questioned. She’s being gaslit. She’s being led astray. She’s being manipulated. So as the world gets more and more dangerous for her mentally, and her own mental stability is on rocky terrain, that’s the point where she could really do with people she can trust.”

When Mohindra describes The Red King as the “most creatively fulfilling” project she’s ever been a part of, that’s due not just to her leading actor status but also the depth she found in the scripts and the characters that brought the world of the show to life.

“Not always but quite often, you receive a script where the mystery is the most well-crafted part of it. The arc of the case is so intricate and, with the majority of the characters, you’re left to build the backstory yourself,” she says. “But with this one, I felt every character was so clear. What they want, what they need, what they’re trying to hide, what secrets they have from each other.

The first episode features the residents of St Jory parading in masks

“It’s so character-led, above everything else, and the world is so rich. It feels like a really well-made pasta sauce that has been boiling down and thickening for quite a long time until what you end up with is something so richly layered and real. It felt so real.”

Mohindra is also full of praise for director Daniel O’Hara (Stay Close, The Stranger), who provided “the perfect breeding ground” for television magic to happen during filming on location around Craster, Alnwick, Embleton and Morpeth in North East England.

“He comes in, chats to you about it, we rehearse it and then he steps back and just lets things happen, because sometimes that’s where the magic happens, when one actor does something and then the other one feeds off it,” she says of working with O’Hara. “Then it snowballs into something really exciting. Dan is a master at creating an environment where that can happen. I would love to work with him again. He is one of the most exciting directors I’ve ever worked with.”

The actor spoke with both O’Hara and Whithouse about her character before shooting, and they provided her with numerous details that fleshed out Grace’s backstory. She was then able to bring some of her own ideas to the character, while O’Hara would often ask for her thoughts about a particular scene during filming.

That open dialogue was particularly important due to the fact filming took place out of sequence, with the production “at the mercy” of location availability. “But I don’t mind that way of working,” Mohindra says. “It’s a little bit more challenging. It just meant that you didn’t get to see one character for a few days, but it was great because every few days a different cast member would come in.”

Mark Lewis Jones co-stars as Gruffudd Prosser

One of the opening episode’s most striking scenes features numerous inhabitants of St Jory parading in masks, epitomising the show’s folk horror influence. “I hadn’t done any horror before, really, so I loved all of that,” Mohindra says. “I love it because it just takes your usual gritty police investigation up a notch, and the people who played those characters [in masks] really put their back into it. They’d sort of charge at you – and I was sometimes like, ‘My God, this is actually quite terrifying.’”

Other terrifying – and “electrifying” – scenes were shared with Jones. “I’m really excited for people to see those,” she notes. “A young ethnic minority woman having to face literally her polar opposite, a white man in his 60s who just refuses to see the world through her eyes, sees her as an outsider and is threatened by her – that dynamic I haven’t seen before. They know each other’s Achilles heel and are not afraid to snap it.”

Jones “is so instinctive,” she adds. “Honestly, as soon as I’d see a scene with him on the call sheet, I knew it was going to be fun. It always felt so electric. I always felt so adrenalised. I’m really looking forward to people seeing those scenes. He is my favourite character in the show.”

Mohindra is now in Glasgow filming Prime Video psychological thriller Fear with co-star Martin Compston (Line of Duty). And while she could be tempted by more leading roles in the future, her priority is always to portray complex characters who stand out from those she has played before.

“Whether it’s the lead or whether it’s one of the ensemble, I’m not fussed. I just want to play really interesting, well-crafted characters. Maybe a villain next time,” she says.

“I like being kept on the edge of my seat and I like things where, as an audience member, you have to do a bit of the work when you’re watching it. The Red King in particular, I was on the edge of my seat every time I read it and I just thought it was one of the most emotionally intelligent scripts I’ve read. There’s just so much – mental health, race, horror, crime, beautiful locations, alienation, loneliness. It is probably always going to be one of my favourite jobs ever.”


Der Pass (Pagan Peak)
This German-Austrian series is inspired by Danish-Swedish crime drama Bron/Broen (The Bridge). It follows two detectives on the hunt for a serial killer who disguises himself as Krampus, a legendary demon said to punish naughty children at Christmas, and leaves his victims’ bodies in styles reminiscent of pre-Christian pagan rituals.

A Swedish series from 2015, Jordskott stars Moa Gammel as Eva Thörnblad, a police officer who returns to her hometown seven years after her daughter disappeared and finds herself embroiled in another missing-child case – one that may involve a mystical being living in a nearby forest.

The Third Day
The Third Day stars Jude Law as a man drawn to a mysterious island off the British coast where he encounters a group of islanders determined to protect their traditions at any cost.


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