07/02/2017 16:41 GMT | Updated 14/02/2017 13:45 GMT

The Moorside's Sheridan Smith Reveals What Happened When She First Met Karen Matthews' Friend Julie Bushby

"She's gone up in my estimation."

Sheridan Smith takes centre stage tonight in the BBC adaptation of the real-life scandal surrounding the kidnapping of nine-year-old Shannon Matthews in February 2008, and the discovery three weeks later, that her own mother Karen, had been involved in her disappearance.

In ‘The Moorside’ - a two-parter which starts tonight on BBC One - Sheridan plays Julie Bushby, Karen’s friend on the Moorside estate in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, the woman who helmed the massive search party by the tireless community to find Shannon.

Sheridan’s character is seen on screen as fiercely loyal to Karen,sometimes aggressively so, even as her faith in her friend’s innocence is increasingly tested, and eventually undermined by Karen’s guilt, and Sheridan revealed in a recent Q&A that she found Julie equally intimidating in real life.

Karen Matthews is played by Gemma Whelan (right), supported by her neighbours Natalie Brown (Sian Brooke, left) and Julie Bushby (Sheridan Smith)

Julie had been made increasingly wary, the actress revealed, by media reports of life on the estate which the Sun described back in 2008 as “Beirut, only worse”. However, Sheridan - a previous BAFTA winner for her role in ‘Mrs Biggs’ - was able to charm her in her unique fashion.

“Julie spotted me drinking a coffee and smoking a cigarette,” Sheridan revealed. “I heard her say, ‘Well, she’s already gone up in my estimation.’”

While the drama is built around the depressing tale of a vulnerable woman reduced to staging the kidnapping of her own daughter for the dangled carrot of a reward, plus the chance to get away from her rotten boyfriend, it remains an uplifting tale, with the loyalty and community spirit of the estate on show, plus the dramatic dynamic between Karen Matthews’ two closest neighbours, one who refuses to believe her, and one who refuses to give up on her. It’s a gripping, moving story - made even more extraordinary by the knowledge of the true events on which it is based.

The Moorside begins tonight at 9pm on BBC One. 

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