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Review: This is Going to Hurt

Ben Whishaw during an interview for “Mary Poppins Returns”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Adam Kay has adapted his bestselling memoir into a new BBC drama series that is on iPlayer whilst also being aired every Tuesday at 9pm. The stellar cast really are the show’s heartbeat and with Kay’s familiar sarcastic narration portrayed perfectly by Ben Whishaw in the leading part, This is Going to Hurt is truly captivating from beginning to end.

When a book is adapted into a television series there is always a feeling of hesitancy: can it ever effectively represent the well-loved book and be as entertaining in its new format? But when an adaptation is devised by the original author it always feels more optimistic. Kay himself wrote the script and you can really feel his voice throughout – and not just because he is the main character.

There are some notable changes that have been made from book to screen, predominantly the way in which Kay’s time as a junior doctor is depicted in the more traditional storyline format. This is a necessary change, as the book is entirely short diary entries Kay could make during his shifts as a doctor. 

The show has been receiving some criticism from audience members who believe that Kay’s direct and blunt approach in narrating and portraying experiences of women in labour dismiss the woman as being uninformed and naïve. The show has also been criticised for depicting all births as traumatic and emergent cases. These criticisms, whilst in a way fair, do fail to recognise that the show deliberately puts a spotlight on the rare and extreme cases. 

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This is Going to Hurt is very much an embodiment of everyone’s friend in medicine who tells a grim and extreme story they experienced. As the captivated audience, we both want to hear the story about “this one patient that came in who…” whilst being simultaneously grossed out at the thought of it. It is a phenomenon of equal parts horror and eagerness to keep watching, a moment that is highlighted occasionally in the show with Kay’s friend Greg asking him for any grim hospital stories.

Kay’s drama relies upon the anecdotal humour that comes across so prevalently in his book which is carried through onto the screen wonderfully. Kay isn’t trying to criticise women going through labour and dismiss them in favour of the doctor, he is trying to show how under pressure junior doctors are. The show spotlights the intense experience of being a junior doctor thrown onto the frontlines of the responsibility of delivering a newborn baby, particularly whilst having to deal with colleague’s incompetence as well as the pressure of emergent care — all with little support.

Our desensitised and often comedic lead, beautifully played by Whishaw, helps show the personal and workplace hardships NHS workers have to face with a sense of light-heartedness that comes across as self-deprecating – encapsulating the trope, ‘you have to laugh or else you’ll cry.’ 

With empathetic performances and fully rounded characters, Kay helps to show the humanity of the NHS. Having now been living in a pandemic for over two years, a statement show that openly displays the pressures of the NHS and the miracle it is on an average day (never mind when it works with an international health crisis) is both poignant and emotional. Kay helps remind us how hard our doctors work in the service of healthcare and how lucky we are to have access to such a resource in a thoughtful way that leaves you with overwhelming feelings of gratitude and respect.

Image courtesy of Dulce Osuna via Wikicommons