The ‘golden hour’ may sound like a mid-morning slot on Magic FM, but the reality is even more traumatic: it’s that first 60 minutes after an accident when a patient is at the greatest risk of dying – and doctors have their best shot at saving them.
It is this life-or-death lap around the clock that forms the basis of Sky’s visceral new drama from Britain’s best current TV writer (yes, move over Jimmy McGovern, Russell T Davies and co – we’re calling this one). Having diversified effortlessly into thriller territory with Line of Duty, Critical sees Jed Mercurio – a former hospital doctor – returning to ground familiar from his superlative medical dramas Cardiac Arrest and Bodies.
Except it’s not familiar at all, because Critical is genuinely groundbreaking stuff: a real time, minute-by-minute struggle for survival that, unlike Holby, doesn’t feel the need to cut away to two doctors snogging in a broom cupboard.
It’s not for the faint-hearted – we’ve rarely seen surgical procedures carried out in this forensic detail (the prosthetics are incredible). In fact, at times it’s in danger of getting a bit silly: a sequence where the camera swooped along the inside of an incision couldn’t help but put me in mind of Luke Skywalker flying through that trench on the Death Star. But maybe that’s just me. (Staying with the sci-fi theme, incidentally, the state-of-the-art trauma centre looks less like a hospital than the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, while even the simple act of clocking on involves the use of Minority Report-style tech.)
Brilliantly, Mercurio manages to weave in moral dilemmas, interpersonal struggles and NHS politics (watching the trauma team crowding around the patient, the senior consultant mutters darkly about overstaffing) while keeping the cast scrubbed in and on the job. And what a cast: Catherine Walker, Claire Skinner, Neve McIntosh and Kimberly Nixon do a good job of outshining the boys, but the late arrival of Lennie James into the action at the end of the first episode suggests they may have competition.
Critical is vital, pulse-quickening and, at times, almost unbearably intense. But I guarantee you won’t be able to look away. Tuesdays at 9pm just became TV’s new golden hour.
Reinventing the Royals
Delayed by an intervention from royal lawyers that rather proved its central thrust, Steve Hewlett’s fascinating documentary about the role of spin in rebuilding Prince Charles’ post-Diana reputation served up one eye-popping revelation after another. In fact, HRH’s PR man (known as ‘Blackadder’ by William and Harry) proved so successful at selling a Clarence House-approved soap – often at the expense of other family members – that the Queen eventually had to shut him down. Forget House of Cards – for real intrigue, look no further than the House of Windsor.
We’re a smart bunch, us telly viewers. As the credits rolled on the last episode of Broadchurch in 2013, the consensus on Twitter and Facebook was basically: ‘That was brilliant. Pity they’re doing a second series.’
So yes, bottling lightning twice was always going to be a big ask. But perhaps Broadchurch 2 didn’t plunge off the cliffs quite as dramatically as some have suggested. To my mind, series one was both convincing and compelling, while series two was laughably unconvincing – but pretty compelling, all the same.
Published in Waitrose Weekend, February 26, 2015
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