Covid care home drama 'Help' is the most timely and important television event of the year

Sarah (Jodie Comer) & Tony (Stephen Graham) Written by Jack Thorne - Help (Channel 4)
Sarah (Jodie Comer) & Tony (Stephen Graham) Written by Jack Thorne - Help (Channel 4)

The phrase ‘unmissable TV’ could have been coined for new Channel 4 drama Help.

Created by acclaimed writer Jack Thorne, starring and executive produced by two of the brightest acting talents in the country — Stephen Graham and Jodie ComerHelp is the story of how COVID-19 tore through care homes at the height of the pandemic.

Thorne, best known for hits like The Accident, The Virtues, National Treasure and His Dark Materials, developed the new show with his lead cast who teamed up after wanting to work together for years. The result is one of the most timely, moving and important television events of the year.

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Killing Eve and Free Guy star Comer plays a young woman starting work at a care home in Liverpool before coronavirus takes hold across the country. Line of Duty and The North Water’s Graham is an early onset dementia patient under her care.

Jodie said it was a real passion project for them all: To start with it felt like we were workshopping. We did a couple of improvisations early on and Jack just ran with it.

Tony (Stephen Graham) and Sarah (Jodie Comber) - Help (Channel 4)
Tony (Stephen Graham) and Sarah (Jodie Comer) - Help (Channel 4)

“When Jack sent us the first draft, I messaged Stephen and said that this was so powerful, even at this early stage. It was so fully fleshed out and brilliant.

“It’s an exploration of how people on the frontline had to adjust and adapt to the severity of the situation around them at the outbreak of the pandemic and what they were left to deal with.

“Within that, there are these gorgeous relationships between the residents and care workers, one of the residents being Stephen’s character, Tony. It feels like a very human story, and it’s something that I think a lot of people can relate to right now.

Graham (Mike Noble) and Steve (Ian Hart) - Help (Channel 4)
Graham (Mike Noble) and Steve (Ian Hart) - Help (Channel 4)

“I hope that this film goes some way in telling the unseen and unheard stories of our country’s carers and the horrendous position they found themselves in."

Originally the drama was to be centred around the relationship between a brother and sister who are affected when he has a diagnosis of dementia.

But as the covid situation developed last year, especially when it began to burn through care homes with a devastating death toll, Thorne and his leading cast changed tack to include that burning issue.

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Graham also himself found himself with extra time to prepare after he was forced to move into a hotel for isolation.

Sarah (Jodie Comber) - Help (Channel 4)
Sarah (Jodie Comer) - Help (Channel 4)

He revealed: “I had to isolate in a hotel room for 10 days on my own because my wife and child had COVID. It flew by, because I spent a lot of time talking to people who suffered from early onset dementia and getting a wide and varied opinion for what it was like for them.

“I really began to get an understanding of what their frustrations were and what it was like for them to suffer from this disease. It took so much from me, and I was grateful for everyone to be able to provide that platform for me. I was even invited to their regular group meetings on zoom.”

Cast member Stephen Graham arrives for the screening of
Stephen Graham arrives for the screening of "The Irishman" during the 2019 BFI London Film Festival (REUTERS/Henry Nicholls)

Graham felt a strong personal connection to the material.

He explained "My dad works in a Specialised Education unit so to me our dramatisation of Jack Thorne’s story was extremely profound and personal. Although it’s extremely relevant and poignant to all, I feel personally for it.”

Help will air at 9pm, Thursday, 16 September on Channel 4.

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