ITV’s ‘Breathless’ Review

A surprising tale of the times.

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I’ll admit, I wasn’t overly excited to watch ITV’s new drama Breathless. My opinion based purely on ‘oh not another medical drama.’ I had visions of The Royal and Heartbeat and a sob story of the week. However, although the first fifteen minutes didn’t exactly change my opinion, what followed was actually a well-layered, glossy drama from writer an co-director, Paul Unwin. A visual delight of repressed emotion more based around the morality of the early sixties than the medical side. I’m sure every female watching is glad to have an opinion. And all those not of that generation (like myself), wondering if people really did say things like “silly muffin” without feeling well… Silly!

Don’t misunderstand my opinion of medical dramas – I was once an avid Casualty fan (another of Unwin’s successes), and even more so of Casualty 1900’s series (yes I really loved everything Casualty); Bramwell was a 90’s favourite, while Bodies was an understated genius. However in recent times, a little bit too much time spent around hospitals has shattered my illusions and the overzealous commissioning of such dramas for me has become a mixture of unrealistic tedium.

Set in 1961, in the gynaecology unit of a London hospital, Breathless focuses on the doctors and nurses during a changing time in medicine and attitudes. The pill was now available, but only to married woman… and only with her husband’s permission! Abortion was still illegal; all women aimed for marriage and children; a career was short lived unless you remained unmarried it would seem; and keeping up appearances was the most important daily chore.

Jack Davenport leads the cast as charismatic and well regarded surgeon Otto Powell, working in both the hospital and private practice, he’s keen to change the choices available to women along with the odd ‘special’ illegal abortion with Dr Enderbury. With nurse Jean Meecher (Zoe Boyle) engaged to be married to Junior consultant, Dr Richard Truscott (who’s only marrying her because she’s up the duff, whereas she sees an opportunity to higher her horizons in social standing), her sister, Angela Wilson (rising star Catherine Steadman), also a nurse, unwittingly steps in on a’ special’ after arriving to help care for their Ill father – a secret they’re keeping for fear if Truscott found out he’d call off the wedding.

Otto initially gets off on the wrong foot with Angela, who has little tolerance for being put in the position of breaking the law. However, it doesn’t last long for his charms to start to thaw her, and with her husband nowhere to be seen, it’s quite obvious temptation is open to pursue. Meanwhile, Iain Glen is skulking around as a Chief Inspector and father of a patient who seems to have an unhealthy interest in the Powell family, not that Otto has noticed.

Get ready for the whole social facade to tumble as the consequences of secrets and lies impacts on those around them in what might actually prove an interesting drama.