Casualty: Series 2

Casualty: Series 2


Reviewed by: Leanne McGrath

The second series of the BBC's flagship medical drama follows the lives and loves of the staff and endless stream of patients who frequent the busy Casualty department of Bristol's fictional Holby General hospital.

The show - complete with iconic theme tune - is still running and is now in its 20th year, although these days it is much more soap opera in style than when it kicked off.

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Early shows like these offer hard-hitting, politicised stories that are far grittier than such and such nurse sending doctor handsome's pulse racing. Pass the sick bag.

Nope, back in the day Casualty focused on real issues - and ones that are still as prevalent today. So while this series is 19 years old, it is far from dated... although hearing Spandau Ballet and Simply Red in the background of some scenes does make you cringe.

Racism, NHS cuts, violence against hospital staff, care of children and the elderly, HIV and Aids, drink driving, drugs and many more tough topics are tackled in the 15 episodes.

The scripts and direction are fast-paced and exciting - but then those at the helm include the likes of Antonia Bird, who went on to make gritty movies Face and Ravenous.

The series kicks off with the Holby Casualty staff campaigning to have the night-shift reinstated - people are suffering and dying because the nearest open facility is miles away.

Thatcher's Tory government has slashed budgets and hospital administrators are more interested in saving cash than saving lives - sadly, a situation still at the forefront of today's modern NHS.

Thankfully the campaign is a success - helped by a baby almost dying and a biker actually dying before they reached an open hospital. So by episode two Holby's night shift is back in business and the stresses of the emergency staff as they deal with extreme cases in a crumbling, underfunded system are made crystal clear.

Each episode follows one shift and the small band of staff who work it. The usual hospital drama cliches are scrapped from the off - the charge nurse Charlie Fairhead (Derek Thompson) being a man for example.

Episode two takes us straight into a lesson about the dangers of drinking with a drunk - Auf Weidersehen Pet's Christopher Fairbank - waking up in Bristol with no idea how he got there. He ends up in hospital in severe pain and the diagnosis is simple - battle the bottle or die.

It's gritty stuff and really rams the message home - although you can't help but laugh at the stuffed fake spider used when he gets the DTs. Ah, ye olde days before CGI.

While Casualty succeeds in getting its message across effectively, it is never overly preachy. This is also the case in later episodes tackling tough subjects, such as in Rock A Bye Baby when a 12-year-old girl dies from solvent abuse or in Lifelines, when a young Asian woman almost dies through a home abortion in an attempt to save her family's honour.

One of Casualty's running and most developed themes is racism. Ethnic minority characters are given central roles - unusual for the period - and the daily abuse they receive is both shocking and disgusting.

The language used in the script, such as "paki" and "darkie", would probably never be allowed in today's ultra-PC times and hearing them used as everyday phrases seems all the more shocking and ignorant today.

Polish porter Kuba Trzcinski (Christopher Rozycki), Indian receptionist Susie Mercier (Debbie Roza), black nurse Cyril James (Eddie Nestor) and black paramedic Shirley Franklin (Ella Wilder) all come in for serious abuse from patients, who spit on them for trying to help them. Even the police are bigots.

One of the series' best episodes - The Raid - focuses on how a standard drugs swoop descends into a riot as the cops accuse innocent people of crimes because they are not white. The real heroin dealer - a middle class white gent - simply wanders idly through the police road block.

An Asian man is murdered by thugs in Anaconda - and his white wife reveals how they were cut-off from her family, had their windows smashed and their shop petrol bombed by racists. Cry For Help also tackles racism when a Polish couple who survived the Nazi concentration camps are brought in and warn staff - and viewers - never to forget the horrors committed there.

But Casualty isn't all doom, gloom and heavy politics. There are touching moments and ample comic relief, particularly from porter Kuba, wannabe ladies man nurse Cyril... and a few drunken staff parties.

You'll laugh - and wince - at the born-again Christian with a rather unfortunate swelling, the travelling hippy Gnasher who gets high on cannabis and bites a cop's ankle and the Geordie snake charmer Wanda The Human Anaconda. Just try not to cringe as the credits roll on the final Christmas-set episode as the staff and a group of kids sing Silent Night outside the hospital.

Be warned - you might have to call an ambulance to deal with your severe cheese overdose.

Reviewed on: 11 Jul 2006
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The lives and loves of staff and patients at a busy casualty department... injected with a healthy dose of politics, racism and more blood than a
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Director: Antonia Bird, Michael Brayshaw, Christopher Menaul, Sharon Miller, Geraint Morris, Alan Wareing

Writer: Jeremy Brock, Paul Unwin, Wally K Daly, Ray Brennan, Susan Wilkins, David Ashton, Ginnie Hole, Billy Hamon, Al Hunter, Roy Mitchell

Starring: Derek Thompson, Bernard Gallagher, Brenda Fricker, Catherine Shipton, Debbie Roza, Christopher Rozycki, Helena Little, Maureen O'Brien, Eddie Nestor, Lisa Bowerman, Robert Pugh, Kate Hardie, Ella Wilder, Geoffrey Leesley

Year: 1987

Runtime: 750 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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