Casualty marked its 30th anniversary with a special one-shot episode, an hour-long piece of drama in one single take. It’s an impressive technical achievement that, as the BBC proudly proclaimed, would place the drama in television history on its own terms. Director Jon Sen realised this ambition with hidden microphones, a cable-free camera, and lowering a cameraman on a harness, all to create a series of impressive 360-degree shots. It really is worth emphasising just how impressive a piece of direction this episode is – it gives the story a feel quite unlike a lot of typical Saturday night television.
To the production team’s credit, this wasn’t the extent of their ambitions. It would have been easy to present a fairly simplistic episode, applying the single take conceit to a basic, even rudimentary plot. Instead, though, Casualty did quite the opposite; One was perhaps the busiest episode in quite some time. Quite a lot is going on in the background; the scenes are always busy to some extent, which no doubt would have proved difficult to choreograph. And so, the one-shot format became more than just a simple gimmick or feat of cinematography – it’s part of the text of the episode. In doing the episode in a single take, it serves to accentuate the chaos onscreen. There’s a series of different emergencies; resources are thin and time is short. It’s a busy and involved episode – in a way, it’s one of the most effective episodes at portraying the realities of working in the NHS in a long time.
At its core, the story is about the demands of the medical profession; not only in practical terms, but emotional ones too. The emotional impact of the job is placed front and centre throughout – not only in its grander gestures, but quieter, more solitary moments too. Caring for the elderly and abandoned is placed alongside the loss of a patient, and where one goes from there. Of course, it’s not all grim; there are plenty of moments of levity, and indeed moments of positivity that show how rewarding it can all be too.
There’s something appropriate, too, in how the episode places nurse Duffy – a character who’s been there from the start – right at the centre, guiding two teenagers on a work experience placement. While it’s not subtle, it’s a nice way to underscore the ongoing legacy of these doctors and nurses. The closing moments of One illustrate a similar point, with the arrival of another patient introducing a cyclical structure that demonstrates once more how, in the end, the job never really stops.
Ultimately, it’s not a perfect episode. But it’s an undeniably effective one, a piece that opts to look to the future while emphasising the realities of the present rather than dwell on the past. As an anniversary episode, it’s an impressive achievement – and a worthwhile one. It proceeds at a breakneck speed, an unrelenting piece of television that uses its directorial conceit to elevate its drama to greater heights.
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