TV Review: Help

Jodie Comer and Stephen Graham are blisteringly good in Help, a scathing indictment of how care homes were treated at the beginning of the pandemic

“I need to talk to you all about COVID-19 protocols”

I resisted Help for the longest time, despite all the plaudits and recommendations. The thought of sitting through a pandemic drama wasn’t something I wanted to do for the longest time and whilst I still don’t feel entirely comfortable about it (and hope there isn’t too much more of it to come…), I should have been reassured that the excellent Jack Thorne would do an excellent job.

There’s no doubting that Help is indeed harrowing, how could it not be. The unpreparedness for COVID-19 was universal but the callousness with which the social care sector was treated and the resulting disproportionate death rate therein is a national shame. Thorne relives this through the eyes of Sarah, a young woman starting a job at a care home in March 2020, cruelly unaware of what is to come.

Jodie Comer plays Sarah with such extraordinary skill, full of bruised naturalism and spiky Scouse humour, her bonding with Stephen Graham’s early-onset suffering Tony is a joy to watch. This thread of humour and humanity is what gets us through, it’s also what gets Sarah through the often thankless grind of care work – the likes of Sue Johnston and Cathy Tyson bringing real dignity to their residents.

But then when COVID-19 hits, lockdowns start and appalling stock shortages strike, a suffocating tenseness takes hold which is brilliantly, nightmarishly, done. The patients offloaded from hospitals, the binbags used as aprons, the pressures experienced by the emergency services, with residents basically confined to their rooms, it is just heartbreaking to watch their abandonment by the government.

A diversion into different territory in the final third decompresses things in a slightly weird way, a tip towards melodrama that sorta undermines what has gone before in terms of Sarah and Tony’s relationship. But Graham and Comer sell it, the latter truly lacerating in a crushing final monologue, making this a remarkable drama.

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