Maternal, review: witty hospital drama exposes the hardships of working mothers

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This Is Gonna Hurt was a successful TV drama, based on a hit book and featuring a typically excellent performance from Ben Whishaw, but it had two flaws. The first was the tinge of misogyny that ran through Adam Kay’s writing (come back to me if you’ve been through childbirth yourself, friend) and the second was a rather lofty sense that the show had important things to say about politics and the NHS .

So hooray for that Maternal (ITV1/ITVX), which is also about doctors in a hurry in a busy hospital, but does not have the above problems. It’s a funnier show with a lot more focus on the main characters’ personal lives – if you loved The Split, you’ll love this one – and the three protagonists are women.

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Maryam (Parminder Nagra), Helen (Lisa McGrillis) and Catherine (Lara Pulver) have all just returned from maternity leave. While this is a hospital drama, their experiences will resonate with any woman who returns to work. There’s a great opening scene of the three of them returning to the nursery on their first day back, and Maryam (just before buttoning her trousers with a hairband to make them up) asks, “What if I hate it to be them away? Or love being away from them – that’s worse, right? I don’t know if all the details in this series are accurate – the writer, Jacqui Honess-Martin, has no medical background – but when it comes to the fears of women returning to the workplace, she’s banging on, she’s been leading the show of her own experience of returning to her full-time job after maternity leave.

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Nagra can do the doctor stuff with her eyes closed because she’s been appearing in ER for years. Here she plays the role of a pediatric registrar, a job that has now become more challenging as she has grown older herself. Helen is in acute medicine, working with her husband and – awkwardly – the resident physician with whom he is having an affair. Catherine is a surgeon and single parent who has managed her life so far in a streamlined and efficient manner.

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If you’re a man of a sensitive nature, you might want to give Maternal a miss, because every male character here is a smug, titled a–e. As a signifier, Helen’s husband is played by the same actor (Oliver Chris) who plays Anna Maxwell Martin’s uninvolved husband in the same-themed Motherland. Occasionally it gets overly soapy – Catherine tells a colleague he’s the father of the baby she gave birth to nine months ago – but it’s mostly clever and funny, and the medical drama moments can be surprisingly harsh.


All episodes of Maternal are now on ITVX

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