Review: Breathless – Series 1 Episode 3
Drs Powell and Enderby (Jack Davenport and Shaun Dingwall) must endure one hell of a ride this week. Just as they extricate themselves from one tricky situation, tragedy strikes. Meanwhile, secrets on both sides challenge the Truscott marriage, and Iain Glen’s horrid Chief Inspector Mulligan blackmails Mrs Powell. Small wonder only straight-talking Angela (Catherine Steadman) has a genuine smile on her face.
But first Powell and Enderby are in town with ex-nurse Jean Truscott (Zoe Boyle), sailing into Soho in Powell’s swish Alvis convertible in a blur of coloured lights and R&B. It’s a great opening, especially as they are on a rescue mission on the other side of legal. A chemical douche has been used on the young Megan (Victoria Bewick) to induce an abortion, and she needs to be transferred to hospital with suspected sepsis. Except that this will provoke the interest of the plods, who will spot Enderby cradling a bottle of gas.
Just another day for the Gynae A-Team. Later, as they disperse homewards, Powell coolly advises: “Always get your lies straight, Mrs Truscott.” But the dilemma of the girls unlucky enough not to know a Dr Powell still sends a shiver down the spine. The sole interest of the police lies in catching the abortionist, and many a girl must have ended up severely traumatised if not dead. A Chief Inspector, no less, arrives to have a word with Powell. But he has the perfect get-out-of-jail card – the baby is still alive.
At this point things become, to my mind, rather silly. The now happy Megan describes how she would love to live in Provence and paint, with the babe strapped to her back. She challenges Powell also to do something without prior planning, so off he trots to Angela, and makes an endearing hash of not saying very much. Darcy and Elizabeth did this so much better.
Real emotions seem as well buried beneath the sophisticated veneer of polite society in the 1960s as in Jane Austen’s 1810s. Jean watches helplessly as husband Richard (Oliver Chris) dallies with Margaret (Sarah Parish as the sexy older woman) during their dinner at the Shell Mex Grand – the one with the art deco clock. Even though Powell is on hand to offer support, is this not also part of the lie – that everything will turn out OK?
Again there are lavish scenes where I hoped the camera would linger, starting with those twisting the night away in the dance bar of the hotel. Mrs Powell (Natasha Little) visits beautiful tea rooms as she awaits her fate at the hands of Mulligan. These are accessed, however, via some very impractical steps for all the pram-pushers heading that way – I’m sure there were no ramps in those days.
The most moving plotline concerns the perky stewardess (Deirdre Mullins) who arrives for a simple op, in good spirits despite facing five men examining her private parts. She does fear the general anaesthetic, but Powell, of course, is charmingly supportive: “We all have to face our fears, and most usually, we get through.” Her death comes as a shock, whilst it reflects that many did die under anaesthesia in the Sixties – around one in five thousand.
Shaun Dingwall gives a sterling performance as the stressed-out anaesthetist. And while he sweats, double checks, and panics, Jack Davenport dons the reassuring mask on which Powell’s patients and other doctors depend. I hope someone other than Enderby is to blame for the death, preferably that Mehta, the new head of Anaesthetics, (Ronny Jhutti). His dispassionate, owl-like presence needs its feathers ruffled.
Where Mad Men, made by Americans for a largely US audience, features a clever and entertaining dialogue, that of Breathless is pared down to the phrases of most import. Together with the significant pauses before, during and after a speech, it leaves me longing for more to be actually said without the need to underline every mood and conflict. Perhaps Mad Men is an unreal product with slick Noughties dialogue in a Sixties setting. Nonetheless, for the potential Series 2 of Breathless, I would ask that the shackles on the dialogue be loosened.
And so to credibility… While many scenes of the main story are both moving and adorable, what is going on with Ch Insp Mulligan? The instant and overwhelming lust between Richard and Margaret is iffy enough, though dressed as payback to his wife Jean for losing their baby. But Mulligan has become the green-eyed monster incarnate at the sight of Powell’s acquisitions. Does a former Army medic and alcoholic who covered up a medical blunder deserve the trappings of the material world?
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