She's played every role under the sun from Cilla Black in ITV's Cilla to nightclubbing chav Rudi in BBC's Gavin and Stacey. And now the ever-versatile Sheridan Smith is almost unrecognisable as she takes on the part of Julie Bushby in The Moorside Project – the controversial BBC1 docudrama about the 2008 abduction of nine-year-old Shannon Matthews.
The acclaimed actress stars as one of the women who led the search for kidnapped Matthews – a little girl who was fake-abducted by her twisted mother Karen Matthews and boyfriend Craig Meehan for the police reward money. Rather than focus on the story of the schoolgirl herself, the drama will centre on the spirit and determination of the women at the forefront of the campaign to find her, led by Smith's character, who was chair of the residents and tenants association on the Moorside estate in Dewsbury.
Joining Smith on the star-studded show will be former Downton Abbey star Siobhan Finneran as the family liaison officer Christine Freeman, while Game of Thrones actress Gemma Whelan takes on the role of shamed mother Karen.
Smith said: "The story is a fascinating mixture of what I thought I knew and a whole lot more that I had no idea about.
"The themes of faith and trust in human nature, and the way the whole community came together really inspired me."
Kidnapped Matthews disappeared on the afternoon of 19 February 2008 in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, aged nine, and the search for her became a major missing person investigation that was compared to the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. She was subsequently found alive on 14 March at a house in Batley Carr, a short distance from Dewsbury. Matthews' mother was later charged with child neglect and perverting the course of justice.
The Moorside Project will commence filming this spring, and makes for another career-defining role for the critically acclaimed national sweetheart, Smith. IBTimesUK looks back on some of her best roles since her career began back in 1998. Now we feel old…
Smith delivered a wonderfully wistful interpretation of Charmian Biggs, a middle-class ingénue who flees her fierce father, running into the arms of Great Train Robber, Ronnie Biggs and later becoming his wife. The 34-year-old won critical acclaim and the 2013 Bafta for Best Actress for her performance. Her fierce 1960s-style beehive should have won another in its own right.
The C Word
Smith captured the nation's hearts with her portrayal of cancer blogger Lisa Lynch in the BBC1 2015 drama based on her best-selling book. The humble actress said nothing could have prepared her for the "enormous privilege and responsibility" that came with playing her late friend, but still made a huge impact with the testing role. She was intensely engaging in every scene and underwent physical and emotional transfiguration, taking us on Lynch's journey of horror, capturing her anger and infectious wit all the while.
We had a lorra lorra love for Smith's interpretation of the young Cilla Black at the height of her fame as a singer, actress and all-round British icon. Sheridan did more than play the Liverpudlian – she became her, to the extent that we kept forgetting it wasn't really Black on the screen. Good job, chuck.
Two Pints Of Lager And A Packet Of Crisps
How can we forget Smith's arguably most famous and longest-standing television role as the intellectually challenged chain-smoking Janet on the seedily funny Two Pints Of Lager And A Packet Of Crisps. It doesn't matter if she wins an Oscar – we'll still remember her for her tumultuous love affair with Gaz and obsession with Rich Tea biscuits.
We can only wonder what else Smith has got up her sleeve...