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Review: Breathless – Series 1 Episode 2 – ITV

Lina Talbot

BREATHLESS EPISODE1 15 300x199 Review: Breathless – Series 1 Episode 2   ITVSpoiler Alert: This review assumes you have already watched episode 2 of ‘Breathless’.

Female viewers must be feeling relieved after every episode of Breathless because things are different now. The control exerted by social codes and above all, by male authority over women, tied them down to being little more than kitchen maids and baby makers. Male viewers I hope will agree with Mr Powell, the debonair doctor with a dark past, that to keep women this miserable makes no sense.

For women to become properly liberated after the Second World War took a strangely long time. Men must have been very afraid, perhaps more so in the upper echelons where a certain family life needed to be on display. As the Powells’ marriage with one sprog and one housemaid demonstrates – concealing beneath it some terrible truth.

Natasha Little gives the most plausible performance as the fearful yet restrained Mrs Powell, whether supporting her husband and son or confronting Iain Glen’s sinister Chief Inspector Mulligan. It’s enjoyable stuff, so I am not going to “Wiki” what British commandos were doing in Cyprus in ’53 and spoil the mystery.

The other main characters have a touch of caricature about them. Even Jack Davenport as Powell overdoes the jolly father role. He also overplays his perplexity in the presence of Nurse Wilson (Catherine Steadman) after some very minor encounters. Perhaps she represents the future and the challenge facing these Sixties social paragons, but I may be over-interpreting.

The Enderbys (Shaun Dingwall and Joanna Page) are most watchable in their struggle to achieve higher status, though sadly they have a sexual problem to solve too. Baby making in these days is certainly fraught with difficulties. Happily, pills for some women’s problems are now available if you know the right chap, which former Nurse Meecher, now Mrs Jean Truscott (Zoe Boyle), does. As a modern girl struggling with Sixties society, she is not telling her husband and -  clap on the back for the man – neither is Powell. Or is he being all things to all people?

So the sexual charade of the Sixties continues, this time with Pippa Haywood popping up as the cheated on wife whom her husband wishes to quieten with a dose of Librium. He warns Mr Truscott (Oliver Chris), who hesitates to prescribe this: “We can go and see the top man.” Later his wife holds a scalpel over his mistress’s head as a different sort of warning – presumably the only justice available for the wronged woman. Of course her mention of Holloway immediately recalls Haywood’s recent outing in Prisoners’ Wives.

Then there is the romantic subplot. Mmm. It is silly… but despite that charming, as the nervous Powell waits amongst the plebs in a street cafe for the object of his desire. He is now aware of Wilson’s background and her actions in helping Miss Mulligan (Holli Dempsey) escape marriage. He doesn’t yet know that she is Jean’s sister, nor that Mulligan has him by the goolies.

Once again the scenes are lovely to behold. In the Truscotts’ new flat, for example, the camera beautifully presents both its décor and its metaphorical meaning as the cage for the new wife. Indeed the formidable exterior has the look of Wormwood Scrubs. The Sixties’ hospital ward rounds become comic parades, the private consultation almost an assignation.

I bet the writer and director Paul Unwin is having a ball. He has built up considerable expertise with medical drama, having co-created Casualty and worked on Holby City. Most recently he was lead director on the US network series Combat Hospital. No doubt he realised that people who watch medical drama are more interested in the social milieu of the protagonists, and this time he focuses on the milieu.

Though the dialogue still bothers me. It’s too unnatural – comic book even – I presume Unwin intends to mimic Sixties TV shows in the mould of Danger Man and The Avengers. With such a visual feast, a terse dialogue may be a blessing, providing the bon mots keep coming. This week Matron (Diane Fletcher) offers her reactionary guideline for women: “we need to be tamed.” OK, the blame does not lie entirely with the men then.

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  • Tribeless

    You’re crazy if you believe women are liberated in the UK simply because some ladies need or voluntarily go to work, slave in the kitchen, have babies and write articles for (mainly) male press barons.

    While the actors in this series are good, the direction is not. Everything feels a bit woodentopsy and the script oddly clichéd.

    Anyhoo, Avengers was far more fluid with hilarious scriptwriters, fantastic title and incidental music and witty direction. Whereas this series of slightly winded is like Emergency Ward 10 with a massive injection of dazzlingly colourful schadenfreude.

    Now, where’s my ashfflé?

  • Lina Talbot

    Many female readers will have personal stories of the change that the prescription of “the pill” and the availability of abortion made to their lives. Of course that’s not 100% total liberation – equality of the sexes has still a way to go now – but Breathless focuses on the control of women by men in things gynaecological, and how that was challenged.

    Breathless is not fluid, but more like snapshots of life, with beautiful visuals that often suggest the underlying meaning. Yes there is this touch of caricature to it, which may be in imitation of Sixties TV drama. The dialogue is also not naturalistic but neither is that of The Avengers. Plenty of wit in Breathless, but not so many witticisms.

    We agree in substance but not in disposition towards it. I found it took some accustomisation – the Sixties were a while back.

  • cornflowerblue75

    Madmen set in the medical sector rather than advertising but the scripts not nearly as good. Shame because it could have been so much better given more research and more thought.


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