New drama brings lies, deceptions and guilty secrets.
ITV has commissioned Breathless, a new six-part medical drama, starring Jack Davenport (Smash, Pirates of the Caribbean) as a surgeon in 1961 London.
The series opens in 1961, a time when Britain was on the brink of the ‘60s revolution – abortion is illegal and the contraceptive pill is only just available to married women. Set in and around a busy Gynaecology unit, medicine becomes the perfect stage to play out the shifting and complex moral codes of early 1960s society.
Jack Davenport plays Otto Powell, a brilliant and charismatic surgeon, who passionately believes he can make a difference to women’s lives, even if that means risking imprisonment under the abortion laws of 1961. Otto and his elegant wife, Elizabeth, preside over the rich ensemble of characters – they are the beautiful people living the consumerist dream and the couple that the others aspire towards. But Otto and Elizabeth are hiding a devastating secret about their marriage – an event in their past which could shatter the careful illusion they have created.
Otto’s oldest friend and closest colleague, Dr Charlie Enderbury, is an experienced anesthetist who is married to ex-nurse Lily. Together they share a warm and loving marriage and Charlie hopes for a promotion that will guarantee a better life for him and his wife. But his hopes are dashed when newcomer Dr Mehta is appointed Chair of Anaesthesiology and the couple struggle to keep up in the wake of their circle of friends. Charlie also holds another, far deeper burden – he alone knows the truth about Otto and Elizabeth.
Dr Richard Tierney, a junior consultant, oozes boyish confidence and charm in the face of his medical students and is constantly irritated by Otto’s superiority. He is engaged to Jean, a sensual and fiery nurse who is convinced her dream is to become a doting housewife living in the lap of luxury, but as an independent woman, Jean cannot always do what her husband expects of her.
New to London is Jean’s sister Angela, who arrives from Portsmouth to take up a job in the hospital. Angela is a dynamic and striking nurse with a strong moral sense who won’t let her responsibilities be compromised. But when she meets the charismatic Otto Powell, she can’t help feel an urge of temptation that she struggles to repress and no one has caught Otto’s eye in years in the way that Angela has.
Breathless has been co-created and written by Paul Unwin, who will also direct the first two episodes of the series. The other writers are Peter Grimsdale (the show’s co-creator) and Simon Tyrell (Lightfields, Survivors).
Kate Bartlett, executive producer for ITV Studios said: “Breathless is an exhilarating and charismatic character drama, set against a glamorous London backdrop. The medical stories and events are there to illuminate and complicate the lives of our key characters and 1961 is a fascinating time in which to explore the changing role of women in society.”
The drama is produced by Jolyon Symonds (Thorne, Complicit). ITV Studios Kate Bartlett will executive produce the series with Paul Unwin, who is directing the first two episodes.
Breathless will begin filming on location in London this April.