New ITV drama Breathtaking is a chilling view of Covid hospitals by a doctor who lived it

A new ITV drama will lay bare the sacrifices doctors made during the pandemic - its writer Dr Rachel Clarke and star Joanne Froggatt talk to ITV News' Entertainment Editor Nina Nannar

Dr Rachel Clarke is determined not to get emotional when we chat about the new ITV drama Breathtaking, which is based on her book of the same name.

But it’s so hard, and triggering, she admits.

Four years ago she found herself in the eye of a storm.

The palliative care doctor was working in Oxfordshire when patients with Covid started arriving at her hospital.

What followed was catastrophic she says: a lack of beds, a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), colleagues working under hideous pressure, colleagues dying.

And all through those early days, they were furious at the narrative coming out of the government, denying a PPE crisis that she says was all too obvious on the front line, she says.

It led her to retell her experiences in a book, which she has adapted, alongside Line Of Duty creator Jed Mercurio and The Crown actor Prasanna Puwanarajah who were both junior doctors before moving into TV.

The hard-hitting drama will be shown on three consecutive nights next week, with Joanne Froggatt playing Rachel Clarke as she frantically tried to cope with what was coming.

To play the role the former Downton Abbey actress underwent a form of medical bootcamp, Froggatt says, to get the language and the terminology correct.

Joanne Froggatt underwent a form of medical bootcamp to get the medical terminology right. Credit: ITV

Much of the series is filmed in long continuous shots, with Froggatt racing down corridors, from one medical emergency to another and the end result is chillingly realistic.

I asked her what she learned from playing a Covid doctor in Rachel’s drama, and what she found particularly shocking.

The PPE crisis is what comes out so clearly- the fact that staff were calling out for help, going into dangerous situations, often improvising on the equipment, using bin liners and paper masks, she says.

With the UK Covid Inquiry underway now, Rachel Clarke says it is essential that lessons are learned from what happened four years ago.

She points to the trauma suffered by NHS staff during that period, and says that has to be confronted by the authorities.

"Whenever I talk about the pandemic with colleagues there are tears," she says.

Staff still need help she says, they were called heroes but in reality they were just ordinary people doing their jobs to the best of their abilities.

It is clear that filming the series, and presenting the experiences of Rachel, has left a deep impression on Joanne Froggatt.

She urges viewers to watch the show if they are able.

The script alone she says brought her to tears.

The first episode of Breathtaking will air on February 19 at 9pm and will be streaming on ITVX.

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