LA-based actors found domestic bliss of sorts in filming new six part show in Liverpool…(one mild spoiler in article text)
NEW MEDICAL drama ‘Maternal’ sees Parminder Nagra don a white coat again and take centre stage as one of three mums returning to frontline medicine following the pandemic and maternity leave.
Set in a diverse northern city (and actually shot in Liverpool) in August 2022, Nagra, as Dr Maryam Afridi, is one part of a trio of women doctor friends juggling motherhood, career and family relationships – and while the focus is on the trio, there is a sense of fine ensemble casting. Nagra’s mum in ‘Maternal’ is Shaheen Khan who was also her mum in the global sensation, ‘Bend it Like Beckham’ (2002).
Close friend. both in the drama and real life. is Lara Pulver – who plays surgeon Ms Catherine MacDiarmid – and is an LA neighbour and “best mate” to Nagra there and Pulver is married to Raza Jaffrey, who also appears in ‘Maternal’ as Jack Olivera, a lothario type doctor figure in their hospital.
He also turns out to be a love interest of Dr Helen Cavendish, one of the other trio of principle female characters and played by Liza McGrillis. Her real life daughter also features as her fictional daughter.
Raza, who made his screen name in the hit BBC TV spy series ‘Spooks’, is from Liverpool and Pulver in a media Zoom described how returning to the city meant they had practically ready made childcare arrangements.
Pulver and Raza, who met on ‘Spooks’, have two pre-school aged children and upped sticks as a family to Raza’s “home city”.
“It was a gift,” said Pulver. “Raza’s uncles and aunties are there and logistically to go to work and come home to my family is very rare.
“Parminder got a nanny out of it,” she joked.
Nagra said it was almost like a caravan of people leaving one location for another.
“It was almost like we all literally took off from Los Angeles to Liverpool.”
Nagra actually came on board just after Pulver auditioned for her role – she read the parts of Dr Maryam and Dr Cavendish – but off camera for Pulver’s covid audition tape from LA. Director James Griffiths even asked Pulver to send her reader a note.
“I wasn’t even up for a part,” Nagra told journalists on the Zoom.
Pulver jokingly told Nagra that she could expect a call from the producers of ‘Maternal’ the next day.
Director James Griffiths explained: “It was a really good read, I had no idea who it was. I was mortified when I found out (it was Parminder Nagra).”
First time writer Jacqui Honess-Martin, whose background is in theatre writing and directing, teased Griffiths about not recognising the voice.
She told journalists she was inspired to write the series after going back to work herself and experiencing a huge culture shock.
The new six-part show is something of a “love letter to women on the NHS frontline who are holding it together”, say ITV in its series’ synposis.
Honess-Martin said on the Zoom: “Its’s based on my return to work after having my oldest son, when he was six months old and going back to the theatre, and feeling tired and stressed and if did something wrong, it didn’t really matter, but I had friends working in the frontline of the NHS and thought how are they managing?”
Fascinated by the idea of mothers coping with myriad pressures, she started to explore the contours of a medical drama.
“Women are put back into the workplace without an awful lot of support and left to manage themselves, and what if that workplace is high stakes as it could be – and you are making life and death decisions,” said Honess-Martin.
For this series, she had the experience of three doctors who actually work in the same areas as the central characters and so the situations and medical procedures should be authentic.
Nagra has an extremely emotional storyline in the very first episode and as a paediatrician is faced with tough decisions and it leads to her reflecting on the health of her own offspring.
“On set, people who don’t normally react, did and the flashback scene is very difficult,” Nagra shared – not wanting to give away the exact storyline.
It’s clear that Honess-Martin centres the drama around motherhood, female friendship and three strong, capable, smart and brilliant women – who nonetheless are thoroughly challenged both at home and in the workplace.
For Nagra, it’s a return to episodic medical drama: she famously appeared in the global hit Hollywood show, ‘ER’ as Dr Neela Rasgotra and was there for six years, from 2003.
Nagra joked that she could almost be a real doctor – “No! But I did feel like medicine was a little bit still in there, even down to technically how to camouflage things for the camera. The funniest part was that some of the terminology that I got used to saying on ‘ER wasn’t right – I was told ‘That’s not how you say it here. It’s pronounced differently in Britain’.”
Maternal, ITV, 9pm Monday, January 16, ITV X (streaming/on demand after first episode is screened – UK only)
Review ‘Maternal’ Classy, funny, gut-punching drama
THIS is quite possibly something of a departure for common British medical TV drama – while not shying away from the gritty and awkward – one university-attending patient has to have his testicles examined by a female doctor in episode one – this is also glossy and has a sophisticated feel.
It is also funny in places and that mixture of grit, and gore and off-beat, often dark humour, takes a bit of getting used to.
The three women at the heart of it all have their own interesting backstory, though we don’t see a lot of it in episode 1, and some of it is perhaps purposefully vague.
Dr Helen Cavendish (McGrillis) was physically separated from her consultant husband during covid – but the separation could be more permanent as the marriage hasn’t really held together. Her doctor husband and boss (!) has just had an affair with a junior colleague.
Ms Catherine MacDiarmid (Pulver) is seemingly in control, in charge and very on it – now a single mum who has been catering for her own needs a lot, as an ambitious surgeon – we understand that motherhood was probably not in her life plan.
Her friend Dr Maryam Arfidi (Nagra) appears to have a solid relationship but her husband, Raz (Abhin Galeya) is he appears none too keen about her returning to work aftre a couple of years away. There are also hints of mental fragility for the paediatrician.
The first ep is fast-paced, absorbing and these three main characters could all have a series devoted to just them individually – three for the price of one seems like great value and writer Honess-Martin promises to go where other writers won’t – both on motherhood and women wanting a fulfilling career. Some say it is telly we will all be talking about – yes, if people can cope with tragedy and comedy and realism all at once.
ACV rating: **** (out of five).