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Breathtaking, a searing, thought-provoking and poignant account of an NHS doctor in the eye of the storm during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, launches Monday 19th February over three nights on ITV1.

The drama stars Joanne Froggatt in the role of a frontline hospital consultant. Breathtaking is based on doctor-writer Rachel Clarke’s unflinching personal memoir of the greatest public health crisis in living memory, adapted for television by Rachel Clarke and former junior hospital doctors Jed Mercurio and Prasanna Puwanarajah.

The drama has been directed by Craig Viveiros (Angela Black, The Watch, The War of the Worlds). Filming of the three-part series was completed in Northern Ireland earlier this year.

The three-part series is produced by Jed Mercurio’s independent production company, HTM Television, which has been responsible for producing Trigger Point, DI Ray, Bloodlands and the BAFTA-nominated factual drama Stephen.

Powerful and uplifting and written with candour and compassion, Breathtaking (3 x 60’) recounts the devastating impact of the pandemic through the eyes of Acute Medicine Consultant Dr Abbey Henderson, played by Golden-Globe-winning actress Joanne Froggatt (Sherwood, Downton Abbey, Angela Black, Liar). Joanne is also three times Emmy-nominated for her role as Anna Bates in Downton Abbey.

Set in a fictional big-city hospital, the drama narrates how frontline medical staff endured fear and frustration as they desperately tried to save the lives of coronavirus patients.

The drama is based on Rachel Clarke’s own experiences as a doctor working on the NHS frontline during the pandemic. Rachel is an author of three Sunday Times bestselling books of which Dear Life was shortlisted for the 2020 Costa Biography Award. Your Life in My Hands documents life as a Junior Doctor working on the frontline.

Against a backdrop of news footage from the early months of 2020, the drama will follow Abbey in her daily work whilst weaving together the stories of her fellow doctors, nurses, patients and the paramedics whose ambulances were queued outside hospitals as the NHS tried to cope with a tsunami of devastating cases. All of human life is present, and in parts it’s an uplifting account of resilience and fortitude.

Jed Mercurio commented: “Everyone at HTM Television has felt privileged to dramatise Rachel Clarke’s hauntingly illuminating memoir of health workers struggling to cope with the extraordinary challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic. I’m honoured to have collaborated with Rachel and Prasanna on this important drama, and thrilled to be working with a cast led by Joanne Froggatt and crew led by director Craig Viveiros.”

On completion of filming in May Joanne Froggatt commented: “I feel truly honoured to be playing Dr Abbey Henderson in Breathtaking, based on Dr Rachel Clarke’s beautifully written, poignant and shocking book of the same name...

"When I first read the incredible scripts they moved me to tears on many occasions. I felt so passionately that I had to be a part of telling this story, the real story, of what was really happening behind the closed doors of the hospitals during the pandemic.”

Joanne continued: “Our NHS staff are nothing less than absolute heroes in my eyes, and I hope telling this story goes a little way towards us understanding their truth, their lived experience and honouring their unbelievable commitment and sacrifice on behalf of us all."

Commented Polly Hill: “Breathtaking is a heart-breaking account of life as an NHS doctor during the pandemic. It’s a chapter of recent history that should never be forgotten, and I can think of no-one better than Jed, Rachel and Prasanna to write this topical and unflinching drama for ITV.”

A mother of two small children and known for her calm approach in a crisis, Abbey witnesses first-hand the virus begin to take hold, overwhelming the NHS and creating conditions of unprecedented adversity.

Commented Rachel Clarke: “There is so much misinformation and rewriting of history around what really happened inside our hospitals during the pandemic. The truth is, NHS staff gave everything they had in impossible conditions that sometimes cost them their lives. It is an honour to try and depict the courage and decency of my NHS colleagues on screen, and I’m so grateful to ITV and HTM Television for giving me the chance to show the public the truth.”

Breathtaking airs this February on ITV1.


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