[Contains case-cracking pendants and SPOILERS!!!]
England’s sweetheart, Ellie Kendrick, made her official television debut in ep #4.10 of detective-drama Waking the Dead (2004), playing ‘Young Greta’ in a series of traumatic childhood flashbacks. The adult version of the character, ‘Dr. Greta Simpson’ (played by Emma Fielding), is a criminal-profiler working alongside the show’s main cast on an investigation into a series of messy murders involving alleged child-molesters. Or something. To be honest, I skipped the (Ellie-less) first episode of this two-parter, and had a little trouble following the storyline, despite the frequent recapping… though it’s worth noting in my defence that there was a comment-thread on IMDb where avid viewers of the series admitted to being equally perplexed with how this particular plot played out. Regardless, for the purposes of this post all you need to know is that Greta was sexually abused by her father, and that when she starts to recover her buried memories of this towards the end of the second episode, she’s portrayed by Ellie… both in (implicit) flashbacks to the assault itself, and also in a slightly confusing present-day vision of the “ghost” of her innocent younger self (plus an inexplicable sequence of old-timey “home movie” footage showing her frolicking in a park and eating ice-cream, that plays over the end credits). She only gets one line of actual dialogue, but there’s plenty of close-ups, and a lot of serious acting involved, portraying the girl’s mounting pre-emptive anxiety and mute reactions to her off-screen abuse… though Ellie also gets to break out that adorable smile of hers, in the character’s happier (imaginary?) moments. Overall, a pretty auspicious and impressive introduction for the actress… even if the episode itself is a bit of muddle.
After that, she appeared in an episode of BBC1’s daytime medical soap-opera Doctors (#6.48), and landed the lead role in a six-part children’s’ fantasy series called In2Minds (2004), playing a girl who can hear her dog’s thoughts! Neither show has ever been released on DVD, so it’s pretty much impossible to find any footage from them online… though, considering how they’ve dressed Ellie in the promo photo for In2Minds, that may be for the best… (meow!)
Then it was back to the police procedurals, for a small (but memorable) role in Prime Suspect: The Final Act (2006), which stars the incomparable Helen Mirren as ‘Det. Supt. Jane Tennison’, who’s attempting to solve the disappearance/murder of a young schoolgirl, while battling alcoholism, coping with the illness/death of her bed-ridden father, and contemplating her own imminent retirement from the force. Along the way, she befriends the missing/dead girl’s bestie, ‘Penny Philips’, played by Laura Greenwood… with both of them delivering excellent performances, and really selling the growing bond between them (as well as various betrayals and heartbreaks along the way). Meanwhile, Ellie plays ‘Melanie’, an unsympathetic classmate of Penny’s, who can be briefly glimpsed during the first feature-length instalment as an extra in the canteen questioning scene, but makes a much stronger impression in the second instalment, teasing Penny about her father’s recent imprisonment, and then getting attacked by the volatile teenager. Again, Ellie only has one line of actual dialogue (childishly chanting the words “Blow job! Blow job!”, to echo another classmate’s cruel comment… which must have made for a pretty odd audition…), but the fight between her and Greenwood is very aggressive, with a lot of punching and grappling, before they’re eventually separated. As far as I can tell both girls did their own stunts, so you have to applaud Ellie for taking so many bumps and bruises, considering how little screen-time she gets, relative to her co-stars. That’s commitment!
After that, Ellie popped up in the second episode of posthumous Inspector Morse spin-off Lewis (2007) as ‘Megan Linn’, the nagging daughter of an Oxford professor suspected of murdering his old college chums. Although she gets more dialogue here than in the previous procedurals, she also gets a lot less screen-time/close-ups, and it’s by far the dullest of the three roles she plays. All she really does is comment on a puddle of (incriminating) oil leaking from her father’s car that the detectives have noticed, then head indoors and repeat the same comment to her father, before walking out of frame and disappearing forever. Not much of a strain on her acting muscles, besides some mild distress/confusion at her father’s angry reaction to her innocent observation… so really, it was quite a leap from this fleeting bit part to her subsequent starring role in The Diary of Anne Frank (which is really where Ellie’s screen-career began in earnest). Unless you’re an overly-curious/obsessive completist like myself, I don’t think you really need to watch any of these shows just for her sake… though Prime Suspect is well worth checking out on its own merits, if you like serious crime thrillers.
Fun fact: In all three stories, the lead character/copper befriends a seemingly innocent and sociable girl/woman who is later revealed to have been heavily involved in (if not outright responsible for) the murders being investigated! And the so-called detectives don’t suspect a thing, until the final act reveal. D’oh! At least Tennison had the excuse that she was half-drunk most of the time…