Joanne Froggatt urges government to be 'honest' about Covid mistakes

The actor has urged potential viewers to not 'look away' from this drama

Breathtaking (ITV)
Joanne Froggatt as Dr Abbey Henderson in Breathtaking, ITV's new drama about the challenges faced by NHS staff during the COVID pandemic. (ITV)

Breathtaking star Joanne Froggatt hopes the people in charge during the Covid pandemic will take some ownership of the mistakes they made, as she believes it's vitally important to learn lessons in case something similar happens again.

The ITV drama — airing over three nights from 19 to 21 February — left Froggatt "in tears" when she read the scripts — a first for the actor — because of its honest portrayal of what NHS workers went through during the global pandemic. The mini-series depicts the harsh reality in hospitals in the days leading up to lockdown and the conditions workers faced both during and after.

Their experiences are juxtaposed in the drama with the real messaging delivered by then Prime Minister Boris Johnson, other members of the government, and NHS England, which often didn't acknowledge the reality of the situation. This is something Froggatt hopes will change with the drama, as she reflects it must have been "angering" for hospital staff to have their struggles be dismissed, or outright ignored, so publicly.

"There's 150,000 ex-NHS workers, or NHS workers, who are now living with long Covid and unable to work, some of them disabled," Frogatt explains. "There's a lawsuit beginning because they feel they were put in unsafe working conditions with inadequate PPE, and now their lives are decimated.

Breathtaking (ITV)
The ITV drama left Froggatt 'in tears' when she read the scripts, a first for the actor. (ITV)

"There's 60,000 reported cases of PTSD in NHS and healthcare workers, that's just reported cases, like where is the support?

"I think the realisation of mistakes that were made and the honesty about mistakes that were made often goes a long way, at least [for] people feeling respected."Joanne Froggatt

The actor went on: "Imagine if you've done all that and you were one of those people that worked in the hospitals as a cleaner, as a porter, as an HCA, as a doctor, nurse, and you were watching the news [where politicians are] going 'oh no, this isn't really happening. Everything is fine, the PPE's fine, it's all fine, testing is fine.' Imagine how angering and insignificant that must make you feel?

"I think just to have acknowledgement from the government of the things they could have, and should have, done differently, and that can be done differently should there be next time is just hugely important."

Frogatt adds she hopes that by "scratching the surface" and looking at "the real truth" of the challenges faced by the NHS will bring an awareness to the public they might not have had before.

Breathtaking (ITV)
Froggatt adds that she hopes by "scratching the surface" of the challenges faced by the NHS during the pandemic, and looking at "the real truth" will help bring an awareness to the public. (ITV)

The actor plays fictional doctor Abbey Henderson in the drama, a character whose experiences onscreen are representative of a number of NHS workers, including Dr Rachel Clarke who co-wrote the series with Jed Mercurio and Prasanna Puwanarajah based on her memoir Breathtaking. Having Clarke's input, as well as other NHS staff members, helped Froggatt give as "authentic" a portrayal as she could. The actor called Clarke "an incredible woman".

Froggatt says: "To be able to go through all of that, she's a mother of two, [and to] work and survive the pandemic emotionally and physically and then write about her experiences and be passionate enough to get the experiences of her colleagues out there, she's such a selfless person.

"I think if anyone was gonna do this story, it had to be from the people that lived it, and so it's only right way to do it is from Rachel's story."Joanne Froggatt

Going on to share how she wanted to approach representing this onscreen, the actor says: "I just wanted to be able to be the conductor, if you like, between the reality, the drama and the audience. To be that person that the audience can come on that journey with and feel those emotions with."

Breathtaking (ITV)
The series will also explore the rise of COVID deniers, to show every side of the story. (ITV)

As well as looking at the lack of transparency from the government and the failure to protect NHS workers, the series will also explore the public response during the pandemic. This means looking at both the good and the bad, including the rise of COVID deniers.

Froggatt explains that it was important to look at all aspects of the pandemic in the three-part series: "A lot of members of staff received a lot of abuse from people and there's a line in our story... it's something along the lines of, 'everyone's entitled to their own opinions and beliefs, and opinions on based on their own belief system and their experiences, but they can't deny the reality of mine because I have lived this and this is my experience — and you can't deny that this happened to me.'

"I think that ultimately is it. We show that everyone can have their own beliefs and are entitled to that, but we wanted to scratch the surface of showing the reality of what our NHS workers really went through."

The show achieves this by mixing real-life footage with the drama, an approach which Froggatt commended director Craig Vivieros for. She says: "They haven't manipulated it for controversy or dramatic effect, or any of that. I think that was really important actually, to connect it to the majority of people's experience, to lay the facts out there and let people make their own mind up about what they think."

Breathtaking (ITV)
Joanne Froggatt adds: 'I think the realisation of mistakes that were made and the honesty about mistakes that were made often goes a long way, at least [for] people feeling respected.' (ITV)

With the government's COVID inquiry ongoing, Froggatt shares that she "absolutely" hopes politicians like Matt Hancock and Boris Johnson watch the show. But what is most important to her is that the NHS staff who were really impacted by the pandemic "feel seen", finally, onscreen: "I hope they feel seen and heard.

"I hope that the public if they can watch —depending on people's personal experiences during the pandemic, I realise it can be incredibly triggering for people.

"But if they can, please don't look away because I think this is such an important story that we really all should be aware of."Joanne Froggatt

"We should be aware of what they went through, and we also should be aware of the lack of transparency from our government at the time."

Breathtaking premieres on ITV1 on Monday, 19 February at 9pm, and it will continue to air over three consecutive nights.

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