Breathtaking: ITV’s New Covid Drama Is A Must-Watch
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Breathtaking: ITV’s New Covid Drama Is A Must-Watch

Jed Mercurio's new miniseries is based on real-life experiences

Hot off the heels of its Post Office drama, ITV has released another powerful miniseries based on true events – these ones much more recent. Joanne Froggatt stars in Breathtaking, a three-part drama following NHS staff during the Covid-19 pandemic, based on a book of the same name by British doctor and writer Rachel Clarke. It’s been adapted for TV by Line of Duty’s Jed Mercurio, alongside Prasanna Puwanarajah – both of whom are former doctors, and the first episode has already had a big impact. Here’s everything you need to know before watching.

Breathtaking On ITV: Plot, Cast, How To Stream

What Is Breathtaking About?

During the pandemic, Clarke worked as a palliative care doctor, splitting her time between a hospice and Covid wards in Oxford. She recalled her experience in a book, also called Breathtaking, released in 2021, which is the basis for ITV’s new show. Set in a fictional big-city hospital, the miniseries depicts the experiences of a character based on Clarke, Dr Abbey Henderson (Froggatt), who is working as an acute medical consultant.

‘It’s the inside story of what was really happening behind the closed doors of the hospitals during the pandemic,’ Froggatt tells us. ‘If you were one of the many people – which I was – who were fortunate enough not to have dealings with hospitals during the pandemic, then this is the story we weren’t told. It’s not what the government told us. It’s not what the media told us. 

‘This is the real story of the struggles that the NHS workers went through: the lack of PPE, the lack of testing, discharges to care homes, and what they were expected to deal with on a daily basis, having to ration care. But it’s also about the great humanity they show to their patients – how they put everything at risk to care for their patients.’

Joanne Froggatt in Breathtaking

© ITV

How Much Of Breathtaking Is Based On True Events?

Breathtaking aims to offer a truthful portrayal of life on the frontline during the pandemic. It combines dramatised experiences based on Clarke’s own experiences with real life news footage – including clips of Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock.

Froggatt explains: ‘Abbey Henderson is a fictionalised character. We’ve incorporated not just Rachel’s stories, but stories of her colleagues as well. Every story in Breathtaking is based on an actual event or an actual patient. So we’ve fictionalised the characters, but every part of the story is based in truth.’

This was echoed by Clarke. ‘Everything that the public is going to see on screen, it has to be true, it has to have happened in some shape or form, to a real patient, to a real doctor, to a real nurse,’ she says. ‘We will disguise it; there will be composite cases. But it has to be true, so that the public can trust us. And they can know that every single scene that they watch has unfolded for real inside those closed hospital doors.’

Joanne Froggatt / Breathtaking

© ITV

Who Is In The Cast?

Froggatt – known for roles in Downton Abbey and Sherwood – plays the lead, Dr Henderson. To prepare for the part, she spent time in one of the hospitals where Clarke works. She adds: ‘We also had two incredible medical advisors on set with us 24/7, and we had a medical bootcamp for two days where they imparted an enormous amount of knowledge onto us. We then had a rehearsal week, which really just turned into drilling the resuscitation scenes because, playing a consultant, I had to look like I’d been doing this for 15 years.’

Other cast members include:

  • Bhav Joshi as Ant
  • Donna Banya as Emma
  • Philip Arditti as Metin
  • Mark Dexter as Mike
  • Joseph Charles as Archie
  • Jodie McNee plays Jules
  • Christopher Hatherall plays Nick
  • Georgia Goodman as Davina
  • Naomi Denny as Chantelle
  • Cat McKeever as Tracey
  • Stephanie Street as Jo
  • Mary Woodvine as Cressida Frost
  • Angela Bain as Sally
  • Tamer Doghem as Yussuf

How To Stream Breathtaking

Breathtaking aired on ITV1 on 19 February 2024 at 9pm, with the following two episodes premiering on 20 and 21 February 2024. All three will then be available to stream on ITVX.