Written by Tresca Mallon
Every so often a show comes around that hits the perfect tone, simultaneously warms and slices your heart and offers everything an audience needs while leaving them wanting more. This is Going to Hurt is that show.
Adapted from the award winning book This is Going to Hurt: Memoirs of a Junior Doctor by Adam Kay, the show follows a fictionalised Kay (Ben Whishaw) as he attempts to balance ninety-hour work weeks in a severely underfunded system with his relationships and everyday life. A particularly traumatic incident threatens to overwhelm him as he attempts to keep a grip on his career and on reality.
Very rarely do you see perfect casting in a book to TV adaptation but Ben Whishaw (No Time to Die) as Adam Kay is as close as it gets. His mixture of sardonic, arrogant and empathetic expertly captures the icy cold jaded exterior that Kay described as default in the book, yet intentionally allows a lot of vulnerability through. The character’s loss of control is starkly evident and Whishaw embodies the physical toll the pressure takes on the character throughout the series. Kay does not give the character based on himself an easy out. He is not endearing, there’s no warmth and the privilege which categorises many in the medical field radiates from him. And yet he is deeply dedicated to thankless work in a hostile environment. This duality gives a complexity to the character that, against all odds, makes it impossible not to root for him.
The character of Shruti (Amika Mod) is a genius addition to the TV series that didn’t exist in the book. Shruti is a sharp contrast to Adam and the weight of responsibility and the horror of the work shows in every movement and facial expression she makes. Mod is quietly astounding in this role which is all at once hilarious and heartbreaking. The character is symbolic of the more harrowing tone which the show takes in comparison to the book which is, for the most part, more tongue and cheek. The reality of the possible results of over work and under-funding is encapsulated in Shruti’s arc.
Kay, who is also the series’ writer, has a palpable respect for the overwhelming and uneven weight that women bear in the day-to-day running of the NHS exemplified by the brilliant cast of supporting female characters. From the perpetually panicked nurse ‘Non-reassuring Trace’ (Josie Walker) to the jovial and sarcastic administrator Ria (Phillipa Dunne), they all play an integral part on the maternity ward. Midwife Tracy (Michele Austin) is particularly well-written and nuanced, offering a really interesting form of antagonism in Adam’s life. However, the foul-mouthed, self-assured consultant Miss Houghton (Ashley McGuire) is the stand-out. She delivers some of the funniest lines of the series and frequently offers Adam a much needed humbling.
Outside of the hospital the two most important people in Adam’s life are his boyfriend Harry (Rory Fleck Byrne) and, as much as he would loathe to admit it, his mother Veronique (Harriet Walker). Walker is no stranger to playing terrifying mothers having just recently chilled many bones as Lady Caroline Collingwood in Succession. She is equally as calculating in This is Going to Hurt symbolising the familial pressure that Adam faces as a third generation doctor. However, she is also emblematic of the toll the NHS lifestyle can take on family members. Byrne is simply adorable as Adam’s supportive boyfriend. Kay obviously has very fond memories of the person on which Harry is based because he is simply a good guy seemingly without a bad bone (or complication?) in his body.
Criticism has been levelled that the show isn’t funny enough to have been adapted from a comedy book. I think this was a crucial and intentional decision which makes the show so poignant. This is not a funny time for the NHS, as it faces an unprecedented medical emergency, constant attacks and funding cuts from the government and around the corner is the terrifying possibility of privatisation. It’s more important than ever that we get a realistic glimpse at the problems that have faced the NHS for decades. However, it’s also extremely important that in This is Going to Hurt we see the stark difference is the level of care and expertise offered by the NHS in comparison to the glossy veneer of a dysfunctional private hospital. And yet, crucially the show IS funny. It’s spectacularly written and the comedy is layered and at times incredibly dark. However, Kay is just not going to spoon-feed you the humour, because just like the show’s characters, he just simply doesn’t have the time!