Must-Watch TV Drama: Care

Must-Watch TV Drama: Care

Jimmy McGovern’s name is synonymous with powerful, thought-provoking drama, from the likes of Cracker and The Lakes to Hillsborough and The Street. This Sunday, he returns with the one-off film Care that’s set to generate conversation as a formidable trio of actors – Alison Steadman, Sheridan Smith and Sinead Keenan – play a mother and two daughters grappling with the devastating impact of dementia.

It’s a stunning piece of drama that expertly explores the social, financial and political issues people face when they’re most vulnerable. And it’ll no doubt ring true for an increasing number of families tasked with the emotional and practical consequences of seeing someone they love no longer able to fend for themselves. 

“Carers are sacrificing their careers, financial independence and mental health to carry out this work,” says Gillian Juckes, who co-wrote Care with Jimmy based on her own experiences. She was adamant women should be at the centre of the story. “It’s another issue that impacts disproportionately on the lives of women. Not only is it a disease that directly affects more women in older age groups, but in the UK, most carers for people with dementia are women. I’m delighted to get this important story out there and thank Jimmy for wanting to collaborate with me and having faith in my work.”

Sheridan, who worked with Jimmy on 2010’s Accused, is another fan and “jumped at the chance” to reunite with him.“He’s a genius when it comes to writing. Everyone knows Jimmy and I’m very honoured to be back working with him,” she says. “Lots of people will be going through the same situation. They’re just a real family and it could happen to anyone, up and down the country. That’s what Jimmy is great at, he always tackles a subject that needs to be discussed.”

Sheridan plays Jenny, a single mum of two girls whose widowed mother Mary (Alison Steadman) suffers a devastating stroke at the wheel of her car and develops dementia.

“When I read the script, I cried all the way through. It really moved me but I’m a bit of nightmare for that. I cry at everything,” she admits. The tears flowed throughout the shoot as well, almost too freely for the boss’s liking. “David [Blair, the director] kept saying, ‘Hold the tears back’. And it’s true, seeing someone trying not to cry is so much more interesting.”

Sheridan knew Alison well from filming the comedy series Gavin and Stacey, but they made a conscious decision not to overly rehearse scenes. “I can only go off caring for a parent,” says Sheridan who lost her father to cancer two years ago. “I haven’t had experience of dementia, and just seeing Alison took my breath away. She’d done a lot of research to allow for as accurate a performance as possible, so a lot of the time I am purely reacting to her performance.” She recalls the scene where Mary is wheeled past her in hospital shortly after the accident. “I hadn’t seen how Alison was going to be playing it and then I saw how she was looking at me with those eyes, it was just arrgh. And we had the most amazing crew who were just capturing all that emotion.”

While Jenny takes on the brunt of care, her sister Claire, played by Sinead, distances herself. “I think because Claire’s moved away, Jenny’s the one who does the lion share of all the caring and I think an awful lot of people can empathise with that,” she says.

“Personally, I live away, so I’m probably protecting my own ass, but I was keen not to portray Claire as the villain of the piece. Just because she lives away from home doesn’t necessarily mean she loves her mother any less. She just doesn’t have the ability that Jenny has of being hands-on and caring and warm. The way she advocates for her mother is she’s like a bull, whereas Jenny is more loving.”

Although an accomplished actor in her own right, Sinead couldn’t help but fangirl during the first scene she filmed with Sheridan and Alison.  “It was the scene where Claire finds Jenny and her mum in the hospital and finds out she’s had a stroke. To be in a room working with two actors you have admired for years on a piece written by a writer you’ve admired for years, is quite the thing. I had to dig deep into my acting boots that day to give some sort of semblance of professionalism,” says Sinead, who notes why the storyline is close to her heart. “My nana and papa both went through the NHS system in their final years. My nana had Alzheimer’s and although the care she received was administered wholeheartedly by those we encountered on the front line of the NHS, battling our way to get that care was challenging, to put it politely,” she says.

The drama, however, isn’t setting out to point the finger of blame to detached family members, the overstretched NHS, or understaffed care homes. “It could all be solved with funding and I think it’s irresponsible of us to continue to ignore it because it’s not going to go away,” remarks Gillian. “We’ve got to do something about it because it’s an illness. It’s an illness like cancer’s an illness, and we’re not treating dementia with the dignity it deserves.”

Care airs on Sunday, December 9 on BBC One

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