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TV review: Care

Convincing: Jenny (Sheridan Smith) struggles to cope with dementia-hit mum Mary (Alison Steadman) in the harrowing drama PICTURE: BBC/LA PRODUCTIONS



BBC1 ★★★★✩

ANYONE who has been at the mercy of Britain’s crumbling care system — and most of us will be at some point, given the nation’s ageing population — will have had their heart wrenched out by Care.

This drama laid bare the pitiless fate that can befall any family when life plays one of its cruellest tricks.

When we first meet Mary, she is a funny and lively woman, taking joy in treating her two young grand-daughters. Then — while driving them home, fish and chips still salty on their lips — she suffers a stroke.

Stripped of her independence, unable to speak, she is processed by a care system that’s barely coping, her daughters left to pick up the pieces.

It is a credit to Alison Steadman’s brilliant performance as Mary that, from the briefest of introductory sketches, she made us believe wholeheartedly in the character.

Even in hard-to-watch scenes where she struggled to speak, lashed out violently and wandered the streets as her dementia developed, we glimpsed the humanity of the woman behind the breakdown.

Sheridan Smith and Sinead Keenan were equally convincing as Mary’s daughters. And their very different reactions to their mother’s predicament forced us to look hard in the mirror at how we would react in the same situation.

Would we fight the system, would we manage to cope and hold ourselves together? These are hard questions, but they need asking.

Care had its own issues, with writers Jimmy McGovern and Gillian Juckes sometimes crossing the line between getting their point across and hammering it home.

There were occasions when the drama gave way to public information as the pair outlined how to plot a path through the box-ticking of the NHS system. I’d also take issue with an ending that felt more Hollywood than Hartlepool — this bitter pill look at Britain in 2018 didn’t need sugar-coating to help us swallow it.