Joanne Froggatt On Breathtaking: 'This Is The Story We Weren't Told'
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Joanne Froggatt On Breathtaking: ‘This Is The Story We Weren’t Told’

Breathtaking episode one premiered on ITV last night

Breathtaking is a brand new medical drama showing us the true hardship NHS medical staff were faced with during the Covid 19 pandemic. ‘This is the story we weren’t told,’ says Joanne Froggatt, who leads the intense and emotional series as Dr Abbey Hendersen. Based on Rachel Clark’s memoir of the same name, we sat down with Joanne ahead of the series to get the inside scoop.

Interview: Joanne Froggatt On Breathtaking

Joanne Froggatt

© Rachell Smith

Hi Joanne! You’re about to star in Breathtaking – can you give us an elevator pitch for the show?

Breathtaking is based on a memoir by Rachel Clark, who’s a consultant doctor, of the same name. It’s the inside story of what was really happening behind the closed doors of the hospitals during the pandemic. 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.

You play Dr Abbey Hendersen – how would you describe her?

Abbey Henderson is a fictionalised character. We’ve incorporated not just Rachel stories, but stories of her colleagues as well. Abbey is an acute general medicine consultant, and she is married with two children. She’s passionate about her patients, she’s passionate about the people she works with. She cares. She’s extremely intelligent, full of energy. Well, she starts out full of energy. She wants to do the right thing by people. That’s her code of ethics, really – she just wants to do the right thing by her patients. That’s the code she lives by, if you like.

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.

How did you get into character and prepare for the role?

I did a lot of research. A lot of research. I spent an afternoon with Rachel and she told me about her work and I was able to ask her a million questions. 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. All of the medical scenes, I had to look like I could do them with my eyes closed and so did other members of the cast. Obviously, we’re not medically trained, so that was a huge challenge – getting the physicalities of that down, but also the emotional side of what it is to be a doctor or nurse or an HCA, as well as how you interact with your patients, how you might touch a patient.

What was filming like?

It was very all consuming. The way we shot was running lots of things together, and there weren’t breaks in the day, really. The set was what we call a 360 set, so we weren’t shooting in one room and then moving into another or taking walls out and moving it, we were filming in a disused university building. So lots of the shots are very long shots, and lots of scenes run together in big sequences.

We shot for seven weeks, and we had a couple of prep weeks. So there was so much to do, so much to learn, so much to cram in and so much to get right. The ethos of the show was to make this the most realistic medical drama we’ve ever seen on British TV.

Joanne Froggatt in Breathtaking


You’ve previously starred in lots of amazing TV shows like Downton and Liar. What has been your favourite project to date?

That’s like asking someone who their favourite child is! I can’t really say one – and they’re all so different! Downton Abbey was a very standalone experience in itself, because I’ve never done a returning series, and it was the only one I’ve ever done, actually. It was six seasons and two movies, and getting to work with that group of people for over 12 years on and off, and the experiences we had with the show becoming such a hit worldwide – that was a very unique experience, and one I’m very grateful to have been a part of.

But every job is a unique experience. One I’m really grateful to have been part of was Liar. That was a fantastic experience. I loved the team. It was a real sort of zeitgeist moment, which again, was an amazing thing to be a part of, little did we know that when we were filming it.

And Breathtaking – obviously!

Any roles in the pipeline that you’re excited about? (If you’re allowed to tell us!)

There’s nothing I can talk about other than Breathtaking at the moment, but I’m very excited about Breathtaking!

Who has been your favourite actor to work with in the past?

I’ve been so lucky. I’ve worked with so many great actors, I couldn’t possibly choose just one! I’ve loved working with so many actors, and crews as well. You spend so much time on set with your crew as well as the cast. I just love the camaraderie of filming. I love the team spirit of it. So any actor that enjoys that side of things and is good at what they do is usually really great fun to work with.

Which co-star did you learn the most from?

Loads of people! You never stop learning. When I first started out on Coronation Street when I was 16, obviously your learning curve is steeper at that point. I remember Ian Mercer and Gaynor Faye taught me a lot when I was doing my first job with them. Ian Mercer used to be very kind and take me to the side and sort of quietly tell me what different technical terms meant and bits and pieces, because I was just a child. They were very kind to me on my first job.

Is there a genre you’ve not done yet that you’d really like to do?

I’d love to do a Western.

Do you get to spend much time at home? And do you live in the town or the country? Which do you prefer?

I am based in between, in a village. I love both. I get the best of both worlds: I can go one way to the countryside or one way to the city. In between jobs, I’m usually working on my production company projects: developing projects, reading books, looking to find projects, having meetings with other companies looking for partnerships, all of that lovely stuff. And then, you know, the usual life stuff.

What’s your interior design style?

It varies house to house. My current interior design style is a sort of French farmhouse, antique style mixed with modern.

How do you find balance in your personal and work lives?

I think life is a cycle of getting in balance, getting out of balance, getting back in balance, getting out of balance. I guess I do that. There’s times when I’m working and my job is quite all consuming – everything has to go into that. But that’s only for a very specific amount of time; you know that you have time after that to catch up on life and catch up with the people that you love. So I guess it’s just rebalancing when I feel things have shifted out of balance.

How can we all live a little bit better?

Just by being considerate and kind. It’s as simple as that. Treat people like you want to be treated.

Joanne Froggatt Recommends…

I’m currently watching… Griselda

What I’m reading… Women Who Run With Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés

The last thing I watched (and loved) was… Poor Things

What I’m most looking forward to seeing… Anatomy of a Fall

Favourite film of all time… Sophie’s Choice or Top Gun or A Streetcar Named Desire

Favourite song of all time… ‘Proud Mary’ by Tina Turner

Band/singer I always have on repeat… Kate Bush, Fugees, Amy Winehouse, Beyonce, The Beatles – very eclectic

My ultimate cultural recommendation… The V&A museum

Cultural guilty pleasure… Anything food related.


Joanne Froggatt stars in Breathtaking, airing Monday 19, Tuesday 20 and Wednesday 21s February on ITV1 and ITVX.