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Breathless – Series 1, Episode 4

Lina Talbot

EMBARGOED TO 25TH OCTOBER BEATHLESS EP4 15 300x199 Breathless   Series 1, Episode 4Spoiler alert: this review assumes you have already watched Episode 4 of the series.

Breathless opens with another fine sequence on wheels this week. Not the swish Mr Powell (Jack Davenport) and his Alvis this time, but the insecure anaesthetist Enderby (Shaun Dingwall) as he comically tries to match his nemesis Mehta (Ronny Jhutti) in the cycling stakes. I hope the opener, accompanied by the sound of rickety bikes over cracks in the road, will not prove a metaphor for the series.

Dingwall brings such humanity to his role that my sympathies stay with Enderby throughout. Having passed the cycling endurance stage without a heart attack, he moves on to scrutiny by a tribunal of über-doctors. Powell gives his unqualified support, as expected of a well-bred Englishman, while Mehta appears all too keen to presume his senior anaesthetist’s incompetence. And thus shows that he has not yet learnt the English way of supporting one’s team, and deserves his comeuppance – fingers crossed.

Here lies the main problem with the storytelling – the predictability of the plotting. The good guys, or at least those with good intentions, are surely going to get away with it. Indeed Enderby is cleared by the post mortem, which concludes “death by natural causes” for last week’s unlucky stewardess. He then goes on to conquer in the bedroom as well, and both Enderbys end up with a smile.

I was smiling too for much of the programme – at a succession of gags, some of which may have been unintended. When the immature Truscott (Oliver Chris) explains to Margaret (Sarah Parish) for example, after some macabre incident in the operating theatre: “it made me want you”. And she retorts earthily : “Christ, that romantic!” Or Powell, as he delivers one babe after another, all the while smiling meaningfully into the eyes of the lovely Angela (Catherine Steadman). What has changed her attitude towards him – perhaps his vulnerability vis-à-vis the police last week? Those triplets, by the way, are surprisingly large…

Sam (Tom Rosenthal) functions as chaperone, an eager medical student who reassures the world that Englishmen really can be loquacious – before the social thumbscrews are applied. Yet again Powell and Angela have little chance to talk, but I suspect they wouldn’t have too much to say. When Angela designates as “Gestapo” the forbidding woman from adoption services who will take the babies, Powell is loath to discuss issues outside the scope of medical expertise.

Though even he is thrown as Ms Gestapo reveals to him that the babies were conceived through incest, and that in Dorset people think differently from those in London. Presumably the father goes to prison, leaving the daughter to the mercies of the local authorities. The unpleasant links between the practices of gynaecology and criminal law are again on display.

Three excruciating meetings, no less, take place between Mrs Powell (Natasha Little) and Chief Inspector Mulligan. I find this maddening subplot has run its course prematurely and now has nowhere to go. Here Iain Glen’s Mulligan only makes me cringe, whereas his magnificent Ser Jorah in Game of Thrones, the right-hand man of Daenerys Targaryen, is equally lovelorn but the antithesis of the pathetic Mulligan.

The question remains whether one medical mistake in Powell’s past can provide sufficient grounds for so much intrigue. In the post-War years many a slip-up would have gone unrecognised, merging with the countless losses of the daily battle with disease. Addiction within the medical profession, for alcohol and other substances, was not uncommon.

Of course the dinner party proves itself the occasion to show social pressures at their most acute, and Breathless delivers a stylish showpiece. Somehow, despite the blackened potatoes and the early arrival of the “Taj Mahal” couple, Jean (Zoe Boyle) performs well as hostess. Her guests politely overlook various missteps until her mother-in-law criticises her drinking. Cheryl Campbell makes a redoubtable Mrs Truscott senior, who herself may well have risen from the lower ranks through marriage. But then, improbably, Jean breaks the No. 1 rule – she speaks her mind in public.

The episode ends to descending strings and reverberating piano bass. The threat is growing and tragedy awaits – but for whom?

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  • Tribeless

    This series has been so frustrating. The actors are good, the script so-so. Period authenticity has been exhaustively researched. Nothing is out of place. Sadly, the director’s don’t quite make it gel. Perhaps the first two episodes, co-written and directed by Unwin in a photogenically clipped theatrical style, felt like stage performances. Notwithstanding the tone set by Unwin and the sometimes clumsy storyline, things improved slightly with Losey at the helm of episodes three and four. I’ll keep watching as the developing story intrigues. Who knows, the seasoned Langdale may raise the bar in the concluding episodes.


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