Frankie: Series 1 Episode 1 Review
Reviewed by David Selby
“The world is my patient.” – Frankie Maddox
The core idea behind new BBC drama Frankie was to formulate a show about a district nurse whose compassion and career steer her, sometimes unknowingly, away from her personal life; a portrayal of the “challenging, complex, and ultimately life affirming world of district nursing” – as quoted by a BBC press release in 2012. As a fan of Eve Myles from my favourite ever show, Torchwood, this was one of my most anticipated dramas of the year. The question: did it deliver the goods?
Something worth bearing in mind, before I go any further, is that this is a six-part series, and a return hasn’t been ruled out. Therefore, I’m not securing a definite conclusion yet; I’m also letting potential sway my judgement, as well as what one episode provided overall.
I’ll start off with Frankie, the show’s eponymous protagonist. There’s no argument that she’s essentially the audience, or at least an audience ‘surrogate’, because she’s in practically every scene – this is why her struggle to maintain her personal social balance is so compelling. We’re feeling everything she feels, and if a script is slightly frantic, it’s simply demonstrating how hectic her life at present is. And it’s a set up I like – I’m already becoming familiar with her character; what she likes, her strengths, her weaknesses. The dancing, for instance, is more than just an incidental foible – later on, when her calling starts to spiral out of control, she takes up the dancing because it’s something she enjoys that helps her take her mind off of things. The car scene was very amusing, and certainly adds to her eccentricity. She’s not a bad woman by any stretch of the imagination, but she’s quite unusual, and astonishingly driven. The dancing is done with such vigour that it accentuates the passion that is placed into everything she does. I’ll move onto this passion later on, because it’s something that will either make or break this series. Her one-sided relationship with Ken Bruce, similarly, helps add another layer to her character, as it’s just something normal that gives her some sassy individuality.
Now, onto Frankie’s various relationships. They’re arguably the focus of the series, aside from the obvious nursing duties. I have a sneaky suspicion that Andy (Derek Riddell) may end up having an affair with Frankie, giving how the episode ended. And whilst that’s not a decision that I’d encourage per se, I would like to see more focus on his character, because he was one of the characters whom I thought displayed the most potential. Whilst Frankie is undoubtedly fervent about her job and even mawkish at times, Andy is ostensibly detached and, again ostensibly, regards it purely as a source of income. Both of these, however, are purely assumptions; both are proven wrong towards the end, as Andy goes to pick up Heather’s husband – an act of kindness which once again exhibits the commitment required and the benevolence found from the job (though, it could be considered that Andy identified with him on a delicate level because he’s also served in Afghanistan).
Clearly, Ian (Dean Lennox Kelly) will be the second main character in this series, and he didn’t have a bad start. Whilst I could express sympathy for Frankie, I also felt sorry for Ian being left behind all the time (it also doesn’t help me to differentiate between Frankie and Gwen, as it’s exactly the same situation). His action at the end surprised me, but it could make for an interesting storyline. It’s hard to judge characters like Zoe (Jemma Redgrave) because of the little we’ve seen so far, but there’s a glimmer of hope from every direction.
The strongest aspects of this opener, from my perspective, were the main two cases Frankie faced. They were both an opportunity to illustrate the personal dilemmas faced by Frankie, the brutality of the healthcare system, and the struggle to keep sentimentality separate from professionalism. Indeed, in a story with occasional humour, this was the much-needed poignancy. I’m sure we could all relate to Jeanie (Amy Strange) in one way or another; most of us have faced the predicament of putting a loved one into a home, and it’s not a nice one. Debatably, writer Lucy Gannon was trying to convey the injustice of the care-home system, at times by using the NHS’ so called ‘kindness’ to reflect harshly on them (“Let him get settled in. Seeing you like this is only going to upset him”). I find it hard to think that anyone couldn’t feel sorry for Jeanie. What her husband had is such a cruel disease – and this episode expresses this better than possibly anything I’ve ever watched before.
Heather’s problem, meanwhile, was what best depicted Frankie’s commitment – at first. The car scene was a personal favourite; thrilling, suspenseful, and moving. It typified how Frankie will quite literally go the extra mile for her patients, and that is her defining trait.
Sadly, the episode falls short of flawless in the final ten minutes. Whilst Jeanie’s story had been filled with poignancy, and Heather’s story had been absorbing until the end, Heather’s going into labour was sadly detrimental to the episode. This is because Frankie simply wasn’t needed – there was already a midwife there, and her husband was on the way, and Frankie could have just as easily got another nurse on duty. Whilst I sympathised with her decision to move matters higher up with Mr Thomas (Michael Byrne) – though why she didn’t tell anyone about him threatening her with a knife, God only knows – I struggle to connect with her when she goes to the aid of someone who doesn’t even need her, when she knows that her to-be fiancée is waiting with the ring. It turns her emotional weakness into an outright incompetence. It’s a shame that something like this should let the episode down, but it’s still a pretty strong story.
In conclusion, despite its flaws, the opener to BBC’s new drama is compelling, stimulating and highly entertaining. It did indeed deliver, and it promises a lot for the rest of the series – but it’s going to take a while before I stop seeing Gwen and start seeing Frankie.