After eye-catching roles in My Mad Fat Diary, Doctor Foster and Thirteen, Jodie Comer confirmed she was a star with her charismatic, award-winning turn as assassin Villanelle in the series Killing Eve.
One of the actors taking note was Stephen Graham, whose own hugely impressive CV includes This Is England, Boardwalk Empire, this year’s Time and the current BBC2 drama The North Water.
He was keen to work with Jodie, and felt that writer Jack Thorne was the perfect person to create a project for them. But it seems that Thorne was struggling to find the right subject – until the pandemic hit.
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Thorne, who also wrote National Treasure and adapted His Dark Materials, explains: “About two years ago Stephen Graham came to me with an idea to write something for him and Jodie Comer. I tried to think of something and got nothing. Then this crisis happened, and we saw care homes getting squashed and battered by the government.”
This inspired him to create Help, which stars Comer as Sarah, a bright young woman who has never really found her niche. Even her family claimed she’d never amount to anything, but then she gets a job at a (fictional) Liverpool care home, and discovers she has a real gift for connecting with the residents.
She forms a particular bond with Tony (Graham), whose Young Onset Alzheimer’s has left him living in the care home at the age of just 47. The other members of staff struggle to handle his periods of confusion and violent outbursts, but Sarah is able to get through to him. This friendship doesn’t just benefit Tony, as Sarah finds that her success with dealing with him and the other patients helps to build her self-confidence.
Then in March 2020, coronavirus hits, and everything she has been working for is thrown into doubt. Despite being ill-equipped and unprepared for the pandemic, the staff fight for the patients in their care. Unfortunately, there’s only so much they can do, and Sarah finds herself trapped in a dark corner.
It’s a tale that will strike a chord with many people, even as restrictions are being lifted, and Thorne clearly felt a big responsibility in telling it, as well as an anger over how the situation was handled.
He says: “It’s been both a long process and a short one, trying to find a way to tell this story, the amazing thing has been sharing in working out the story with Stephen, Jodie, the amazing Marc Munden, Beth Willis and everyone at the Forge and Channel 4.
“Thirty thousand people have died unnecessarily in these care homes because of the indifference and incompetence of our government. Hearing the stories of those at the frontline, having people break down in tears on Zoom in front of us has been incredibly moving and galling. Getting the story right will be incredibly important, we are aware of the pressure upon us, this has to be written and made with anger and precision. We hope we do it justice.”
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