Heart of the matter

Paula Milne’s new Channel 4 drama stars Nigel Hawthorne as an eminent cardiac surgeon facing a crisis of professional confidence, while (below) ITV offers a new take on the classic 703 hospital drama, Angels. Sue Greenway reports.

Still basking in awards for The Politicians Wife about a wronged Tory spouse. screenwriter Paula Milne has switched her attention to the medical profession for her latest searing drama to be screened on Channel 4.

The Fragile Heart stars Nigel Hawthorne (The Madness 0f King George. Yes Minister) as the celebrated cardiac surgeon Edgar Pascoe. a cold fish who wields a scalpel with varying degrees of success in his professional and private life. in contrast. his wife Lileth is a GP with the kind ofcaring bedside manner we all wish our own doctor had.

Their two children the twins have padded along in their father's illustrious footsteps. The ambitious Nicola is daddy‘s favourite who will go to any lengths to win her father’s approval. as she carves out her career and carves up anyone who gets in her way. Daniel, crushed by his father‘s emotional neglect. eventually gives up medicine to become a marketing executive for a medical technology company.

in the first episode. Edgar loses a patient whose widow reports him to the General Medical Council. Troubled by the condition of his own heart. the good

more ethical dilemmas.

doctor is approached to carry out a secret operation on the Chinese Communist leader which presents yet

in real life Milne is married to a paediatric surgeon, which cut down on research time into the inner workings of the medical establishment. ‘My husband hasn‘t read the full script. but he saw episode one and i think he was awfully relieved that i had been even- handed.‘ she says. ‘There is a line where Edgar says there is no such thing as a brave doctor. only brave patients and that is something my husband says a lot.‘

When Milne was approached with the idea of writing a drama about medicine that was not hospital- based. she opted for a cardiac surgeon because they are regarded as the ‘high priests' of their profession. ‘I wanted to write about a man.‘ she says. ‘who had centred his whole professional life around clinical and scientific imperatives - a charismatic. articulate man who learned to use the medical hierarchy for his own career advancement and a man who. in protecting himself from the terror of his patients. had lost touch with his own humanity.‘

Milne's research included a look at alternative

Channel 4.

lie lieart: lilgel liawthorne plays Pascoe with surgical precision

approaches to the treatment of disease. which is also a theme of the three-part series. While sceptical herself. she was struck by the scorn of orthodox medicine. ‘The fact is that millions of people are voting with their feet. so something must be wrong somewhere.‘ says Milne. ‘This isn't actually to do with the NHS and the waiting lists. It is to do with how you treat people when they are sick, vulnerable and frightened. Win. lose or draw. holistic medicine does take that on.‘

For Nigel Hawthorne, the serial marked a welcome return to television after an absence of nearly five years. during which he notched up an Oscar nomination for The Madness 0f King George. ‘The joy of the character of Edgar is that he may seem to be very sure of himself, but he has a remarkable change of attitude in which he does reassess his way of life, and that's a very big step.‘ he says. ‘To look back on everything you have done, every standard you have set and say, maybe I could think again. is very courageous of him.’

The Fragile Heart starts on Wed 6 Nov at I 0pm on

Nursing grudges

New Friday night drama Staying Alive is a last-paced, gritty and at times funny series which was born out of the idea to update Angels, the classic 70s 38!: series about student nurses. Set In an East End hospital, Angels showed that nursing was a thankless task, tar removed from the romance of British ‘I'V’s iirst long-running medical drama, Emergency - Ward 10, where deaths were limited to live per series and nurses were modelled on Florence Nightingale.

In a sense, Staying Alive - whose

Staying Alive: a shot in the arm tor medical drama

working title was Angels 2000- has come tull circle as medicine takes a back seat to the personal problems oi the characters, with a murder added to give an extra twist to the genre. Writer iieil McKay insists this is not simply a variation on the Casualty- cardlac Arrest-Elitheme. ‘ihe first episode has quite a strong medical story, but subsequently the strength lies in the relationships between the characters and it has the elements of a thriller,’ he says.

The opening episode introduces the characters, live trainee nurses trying to survive in a crumbling, under- tunded hospital. Michaela attempts suicide, Alan has marriage ditticulties, and the older Cassie is a battered wite in hiding irom her husband. in short, everyone has their own problems which provide endless

opportunities tor conirontation - the drip-teed ot drama. A second series is already on the cards, and McKay is convinced the largely unknown cast will be household names within twelve months.

‘We haven’t gone for stardom to kickstart it, we have gone ior acting quality,’ he says. ‘There was a general ieeiing around that there could be scope for a series about nurses, bringing it bang up to date. It gets darker and darker, but also tunnier and I think people will like the characters. I think we have something to otter because we are not a medical drama. It is set in a nurses’ home but we spend more time with their private lives than at work.’ (Sue Greenway)

Staying Alive starts on Fr! 1 Nov at 9pm on Scottlslt.

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