Excellently cast and grippingly pertinent, Maternal is a worthy addition to the pantheon of British medical dramas
“What did you think coming back to work after maternity leave would be like?”
Against the gritty reality of This Is Going To Hurt, Maternal actually holds its own fairly well with its own take on the contemporary challenges faced by the NHS. Created and written by Jacqui Honess-Martin, it follows three doctors as they return to work after maternity leave and in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over six episodes (and no more, as the series has been cancelled), there’s an insightful look at the unique challenges mothers face as they re-enter the workforce.
Lara Pulver’s forthright surgeon Dr Catherine MacDiarmid is juggling single motherhood with a spectacularly unhelpful mother (a brilliant Haydn Gwynne). Parminder Nagra’s paediatrician Dr Maryam Afridi has a crisis of confidence that others too easily seek to exploit. And Lisa McGrillis’ Registrar in acute medicine Dr Helen Cavendish is dealing with a feckless husband (Oliver Chris) on top of everything else but pleasingly, the show is about how they all get shit done, one way or another.
There’s a whole host of Grey’s Anatomy-ish shenanigans that go on in hospital beds and marital beds. Heart-breaking diagnoses rubbing up against heart-swelling recoveries; babydaddies reappearing from Sweden and side-pieces haunting the same corridors as both parties in crumbling marriages; and a clear-sighted honesty about how ambition in perceived in women, and particularly in mothers, in a way which is never imposed on men and fathers in the same situation.
Pulver, Nagra and McGrillis are a hugely appealing lead trio and backed up by a strong ensemble of supporting players, you could easily have seen the show going on to continued success. But sadly, audience numbers didn’t meet ITV’s expectations and in the cutthroat TV market of today, there’s little chance of faith in a show’s chance to grow being allowed.