Sunday, August 2, 2015

TV review: 'Breathless'

LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - Doctors and nurses have been engaged in soapy doings since broadcasting's infancy, but seldom in a package quite as tantalizing as "Breathless."

TV review: 'Breathless'

0 comments
Shaun Dingwall as Charlie Enderbury in ´Breathless´ (Photo via ITV)
Shaun Dingwall as Charlie Enderbury in 'Breathless' (Photo via ITV)

LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - Doctors and nurses have been engaged in soapy doings since broadcasting's infancy, but seldom in a package quite as tantalizing as "Breathless." Set in the early '60s, this three-part "Masterpiece" production obviously shares certain qualities with "Mad Men," but quickly establishes its own spin on the era replete with a web of interlocking relationships. Built around a dashing gynecologist who performs illegal abortions, the project feels timely and provocative, but can just as easily be savored strictly for its "Peyton Place"-like attributes. For those needing a fix of sumptuous British period drama until "Downton Abbey" docks, "Breathless" is a breath of fresh air.

The producers won half the battle by casting Jack Davenport (closer to "Swingtown," happily, than his "Smash" ordeal) as Dr. Otto Powell, who appears to saunter through life with nary a care despite breaking the law to assist women with terminating unwanted pregnancies. Assured and self-confident, he's accompanied on these surreptitious missions by a nervous anesthesiologist (Shaun Dingwall) and a beautiful nurse, Jean (Zoe Boyle), who, as luck would have it, is pregnant herself, prodding the aristocratic doctor (Oliver Chris) who's responsible to marry her. 

For Jean, though, the seemingly golden ticket from nurse to doctor's wife turns out to be gilded in tin. At the same time, she passes the on-the-side work to her newly arrived sister, Angela (Catherine Steadman), to whom Powell is instantly, almost palpably drawn. Powell's wife (Natasha Little), meanwhile, is paid a visit by a fidgety police inspector ("Game of Thrones'" Iain Glen) with blackmail, among other things, on his mind.

Paul Unwin, who wrote all three parts (collaborating on two of them) and directed the premiere, has stitched an awful lot into these three 90-minute chapters: Class distinctions, infidelity, a central mystery regarding the Powells' past and the dangers associated with abortion being forced underground. Reminded his work is illegal, Powell says the law "makes miserable lives and miserable women." 

Like "Mad Men," there's little nostalgia here for the good ol' days, even if Anne Dudley's bluesy, evocative score and settings like a jazz club where they play the "Peter Gunn" theme sort of makes one long to visit. Because it's also a time when a doctor whose wife is unhappy because he's betrayed her can cajole a colleague to medicate her so she'll be more docile. (A woman who begins experimenting with the birth control pill notes the freedom will let her "be like a bloke, I suppose.") 

Throw in a splendid cast - including Sarah Parish, who shows up near the end of the first night - and "Breathless" is a pretty near flawless condensation of soap-opera conventions into a delicious little package. The only conspicuous misstep, in fact, is its rather nondescript title. Because when a story is crafted as meticulously as this one, the temptation is to breathe in every last bit of it.

0 comments
We encourage respectful comments but reserve the right to delete anything that doesn't contribute to an engaging dialogue.
Help us moderate this thread by flagging comments that violate our guidelines.

Comment policy:

Philly.com comments are intended to be civil, friendly conversations. Please treat other participants with respect and in a way that you would want to be treated. You are responsible for what you say. And please, stay on topic. If you see an objectionable post, please report it to us using the "Report Abuse" option.

Please note that comments are monitored by Philly.com staff. We reserve the right at all times to remove any information or materials that are unlawful, threatening, abusive, libelous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, profane, indecent or otherwise objectionable. Personal attacks, especially on other participants, are not permitted. We reserve the right to permanently block any user who violates these terms and conditions.

Additionally comments that are long, have multiple paragraph breaks, include code, or include hyperlinks may not be posted.

Read 0 comments
 
comments powered by Disqus
About this blog
Our Television blog is your go-to guide for everything that’s happening on TV: updates on your favorite actors and programs, reviews, ratings, rumors and some of the sharpest opinions on the web.

Nick Vadala Philly.com
Gabrielle Bonghi Philly.com
Ellen Gray Daily News TV Critic
Molly Eichel Inquirer Staff Writer
Latest Videos:
Also on Philly.com:
letter icon Newsletter