North York Moors actress Joanne Froggatt to star as doctor in ITV drama based on early days of Covid-19

Yorkshire actress Joanne Froggatt is to star as an NHS doctor during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic in a drama jointly penned by Line of Duty creator Jed Mercurio.

Filming of the ITV three-part series, Breathtaking, was completed in Northern Ireland earlier this year.

Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt, who is from Littlebeck in the North York Moors, performs in the role of a frontline hospital consultant in the show based on doctor-writer Rachel Clarke’s personal memoir of the greatest public health crisis in living memory.

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On completion of filming in May, Froggatt said: “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.

Joanne Froggatt in Breathtaking.Joanne Froggatt in Breathtaking.
Joanne Froggatt in Breathtaking.

"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.”

She added: “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.”

It has been 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).

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During filming, Mercurio said: “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.”

Viveiros said: “I’m honoured to be working with Jed, Rachel and Prasanna on this timely, important project. After reading the first few pages of the script, I knew this was a project I wanted to be involved with.

"Its unique, bold and unflinching take on life on the front line during the pandemic was immediately captivating. I’m delighted to once again be working with Joanne Froggatt, her ability to effortlessly bring the humanity and empathy to any character she portrays meant she was the perfect performer to bring Abbey to life.”

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He added: “Shooting a large part of the miniseries in long, real-time sequences should make for captivating viewing and allow the audience to be immersed in the struggles our real-life heroes faced in the wards and emergency departments across the country, day after day, during the pandemic. This story is a chance for their voices and sacrifices to be seen and heard.”

Breathtaking 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).

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.

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.

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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.

Breathtaking was acclaimed as “a searing insider’s account of being a doctor during the tsunami of coronavirus deaths” (The Independent) and “a beautiful, blistering account of a key moment in our history” (Sunday Times).

Clarke said: “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.”

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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.

The series is produced by 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.

The drama is produced by Brian J. Falconer (Derry Girls, Ordinary Love and The Dig) and executive produced by Jed Mercurio, Rachel Clarke and Prasanna Puwanarajah. Prasanna is an actor, writer, producer and director whose acting credits include Ten Percent, The Crown, Line of Duty and Doctor Foster. His award-winning debut feature film Ballywalter will open in cinemas in the Autumn.

The drama is produced in association with Northern Ireland Screen and filming took place in Belfast from April to May of this year.

Breathtaking is produced in association with and distributed internationally by ITV Studios.