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Real life story behind gripping new series from Line of Duty creator

Real life story behind gripping new series from Line of Duty creator

It's based on real events during the Covid-19 pandemic

The Covid-19 lockdown had a huge impact on us all, whether physically, mentally or both. It took our loved ones from us with only a handful allowed to say goodbye in person, while socially distanced.

It's a period of modern history that takes to ITV1 this week through new Jed Mercurio drama Breathtaking.

The show takes us back to the weeks before the first wave of coronavirus patients flooded our hospitals as the first national lockdown was announced across the United Kingdom.

It stars Joanne Froggatt in the lead role as Dr Abbey Henderson, where she has to deal with PPE shortages, zero bed availability for patients, and staff falling sick in big numbers as they succumbed to the virus while tending to patients.

Inspiration for the show came after Line of Duty creator Mercurio picked up memoir Breathtaking: the UK’s human story of Covid, written by Dr Rachel Clarke.

Mercurio said: "I just thought 'this is an authentic account from the frontline' and it felt like a story we had to tell.

"That mismatch between the public messaging and the professional reality is the centrepiece of the drama.

Joanne Froggatt in Breathtaking.

"And if the messaging to the public had been transparent, then people within the NHS would have felt more supported and heard."

The show is based primarily on Dr Clarke's work, with no story within the TV adaptation embellished or made up for dramatic effect.

The main difference between the book and show is that the book is a very personal piece of work for Dr Clarke whereas the show has been a work of fiction based on fact. The doctor and patient names have been made up but their stories are what are real.

The time frame also differs, with the TV drama covering a much longer period of time than the memoir, which began on the first of January 2020 and finished as the first wave of Covid started to abate in April.

The show's timeframe was extended, Dr Clarke says, to include the second wave 'which really smashed the NHS to bits... and led to the most catastrophic loss of life'.

Dr Clarke had been working in a hospice as a palliative care doctor when the Covid pandemic hit UK shores. She quickly moved to a hospital trust where the need for palliative care doctors became 'absolutely immense'.

The show comes from Line of Duty creator Jed Mercurio.

She said: "As the pandemic unfolded I knew from very early on when those awful haunting images started to appear from China and then from Northern Italy that this virus was going to have a catastrophic effect in the UK and I wanted to be where the need was greatest.

"So I asked if I could move out of the hospice sector into a hospital setting where, sure enough, ward after ward after ward was filled with patients dying from Covid. So the need for palliative care doctors on hospital wards was absolutely immense and that’s where I wanted to be.

"I wanted to help as best I possibly could with all of the skills I have. I’ve actually stayed in hospital palliative medicine ever since because I’ve realised I can’t go back. I need to be where the need is greatest. And it really is in hospitals."

Dr Clarke explained how her experiences of working with dying Covid patients started to become a diary and 'rough draft of history' as she developed insomnia.

Jed Mercurio, Dr Rachel Clarke, and Prasanna Puwanarajah on set.

She was the inspired to make her notes into something publishable after Dominic Cummings drove 260 miles to visit his parents' home in Durham, during which his wife and son had Covid symptoms. He then took the infamous journey to Barnard Castle to, he says, test if his eyesight was good to drive back to London.

"They were just my own diary, my own attempt at therapeutic activity in the night," she said.

"And gradually, as the pandemic continued through 2020, I started to realise that these words, albeit very emotional, very subjective... they were my raw experience of this pandemic as it unfolded inside a hospital. I felt as though that mattered. This was a kind of rough draft of history.

Froggatt in an emotional scene.

"My testimony of something extraordinary as it swept the country. And I felt it was valuable to try to share that with the public because I really wasn’t confident the NHS experience inside hospitals was necessarily getting out there to a wider public audience."

Dr Clarke co-wrote and served as executive producer to the show, alongside Mercurio and former doctor, Prasanna Puwanarajah.

On exactly how close to real life Breathtaking is, Dr Clarke said: "Nothing has been fabricated. Everything you witness has come from exhaustive research, talking to members of staff and patients from a whole variety of different hospitals and settings across the country.

"And everything on screen is united by this fundamental underlying principle. It is real. It has happened somewhere to somebody. This is what it was truly like. What you are witnessing is true."

Breathtaking airs on ITV1 on 19 February and runs for three parts over successive days.

Featured Image Credit: ITV

Topics: Coronavirus, TV and Film, UK News, Line of Duty, ITV, NHS, Health