Care – The DVDfever Review – Sheridan Smith, Alison Steadman

Care is a new Jimmy McGovern drama which, for me, has come at a depressingly poignant time.

We know that strokes can hit someone – mostly in their later years, but sometimes also in a person’s younger years. It does not discriminate. For Mary (Alison Steadman), it’s today, and it’s just about to happen, while she’s driving home from the chippy.

The moment which hit home came just a few minutes in, when Jenny (Sheridan Smith) sees her mum in the hospital for the first time, and while she didn’t recognise her own daughter, it was the look of utter confusion and desperation on her face which struck home.

My mum is currently in hospital, having had a stroke a few weeks ago, and while we figured she’s been suffering from some dementia for a while, this time it completely floored her, and she was flat out in bed, barely moving, at least when my sister and I saw her, at different times, but in time while visiting, she did start to wake up a bit and start to recognise I was there with her. However, some parts of her memory had gone, and she was starting to remember certain things quickly, causing her to be very upset – namely the fact that both her parents had passed away, as well as, more recently, her ex-husband (and father, for my sister and I). Even though they divorced in the ’80s, they still remained good friends and both had a lot of time for each other. This part is echoed in how Mary assumes that almost every man she sees in the hospital is her late husband, George.

Since first going in, she has been discharged on two occasions, but this has been because she’s put a happy face on, made it look like she’s perfectly fine, and can just about start to get about unaided, but then 1-2 days after getting home, she has gone back to minus square one, and has been taken back into hospital. As I write this, she is about to have an assessment for adaptations to her house to help her get about. With fairly steep stairs, this is not conducive to someone who has become very frail in a short space of time. So then you have to think about the cost of those adaptations, and how much use she would get out of them, since everyone wants to stay living in their own home, but is it really the best place for them long-term?

The thing about strokes is, that another stroke could happen tomorrow and kill her, or it could wait 20 years and do it then – there is no fixed timeframe for any of this.

Ideally, a bungalow would be ideal for her to move into, but those are as rare as finding the word “cromulent” in the dictionary.

Either way, a stroke, essentially, robs you of being you.

Mary’s condition is considerably worse than that suffered by my mum, but then you never know whether any situation can get worse at any time, or just stay the same. Either way, it seems unlikely that anything will improve. Once the stroke happens, Mary just can’t communicate with anyone properly at all, so it does make you wonder if that’s what’s next.

What was quite stunning about this is that as Mary is struggling to get her words out, captions appear onscreen telling us what she’s actually saying, since it’s not always how it comes out.

Jenny and her sister, Claire (Sinead Keenan), who works in a bridesmaids shop, are faced with the unenviable decision as to whether to put Mary into a respite care home, at least on a temporary basis. I can understand Jenny’s want to rail against the system, but it is certainly the best place for her for a time, as it’s the only practical option.

In response to an early situation in which Jenny finds herself, there are still some hospitals which have barriers with which to exit the car park, but I find these are less often the case, and they’re just on a ticketing basis when you come in. However, they’re all privately-run, these days, so note that as of October 2012, it’s now illegal to clamp or tow in a private car park, so… you know….

I found Care gripping from start to finish, and although this is largely focused on how this affects Jenny and her life, and as good as Sheridan Smith always is, I would have to say it’s a two-hander with Alison Steadman, who gives the most incredible performance from her that I have ever seen, and certainly on a par with Daniel Day-Lewis’ portrayal of cerebral palsy sufferer Christy Brown in My Left Foot.

I did learn a couple of things from this drama, too, in that when there’s no power of attorney already agreed by the stroke victim, you have to apply for Court of Protection, which needs a consultant’s report. Also, there’s the aspect of “NHS continuing healthcare”.

Since this is a Jimmy McGovern drama, it picks a point or three in the proceedings to rightly point out the shortfalls in the care system as a result of a lack of government funding. As such, it does feel like someone’s walking onscreen to press pause and lecture you, even though these are important things to be told. So I get why McGovern does it, and why it’s necessary to do so.

In some ways, it feels similar to Dave Johns’ movie, I, Daniel Blake, directed by Ken Loach, in which they ran through the gamut of everything bad that could possibly happen to Blake, and while not everything would happen to everyone, all of those incidents were based on real situations. I expect the same has happened with Care.

Overall, this is still nothing less than an essential drama, and when the BAFTAs come round, I really hope Ms Steadman comes out on top.

Care is broadcast on Sunday December 9th at 9pm, and after broadcast can be watched on the BBC iPlayer, but is not yet available to pre-order on Blu-ray or DVD.

Care – Trailer – BBC One

Score: 10/10

Director: David Blair
Producers: Colin McKeown, Donna Molloy
Writers: Jimmy McGovern, Gillian Juckes

Jenny: Sheridan Smith
Mary: Alison Steadman
Claire: Sinead Keenan
Dave: Anthony Flanagan
Helen (Bella Vista): Elizabeth Rider
Sophie: Macy Shackleton
Lauren: Lola Shaw
Bride: Gemma Dobson
Receptionist: Stephanie Bishop
Patient: Steven Hillman
Attendant: Moey Hassan
Nurse Jamaal: Tanya Moodie
Nurse Darwin: Alexandra Afryea
Amanda: Rochenda Sandall
Diane: Jodie Barchha Lang
Doctor O’Sullivan: Richard Huw
Hilary: Kerri Quinn
Nurse Brown: Lois Chimimba
Claire’s Boss: Karen Taylor
Frank Gilmour: Robin Bowerman
Rebecca: Olwen May
David Tully: Lee Toomes
Chairman: Kevin Doyle
Shirley: Lynn Roden
Angela: Jessica Hall