With series two of Malpractice greenlit, Matthew Bell learns how the ITV medical thriller came to the screen
Malpractice won favour with both critics – “intricately plotted and beautifully, leanly written”, said The Guardian – and audiences: it was ITV1’s most watched drama launch episode of 2023 when it aired last spring. Ahead of filming starting on series two, the RTS talked to some of the talent behind the show, including its creator, former NHS doctor Grace Ofori-Attah.
She pitched an idea for a hospital-set thriller about medical malpractice to Simon Heath, CEO of World Productions, whose award-winning dramas include Line of Duty and Save Me.
“The tradition of medical shows in this country has largely been around a form of relationship drama or soap; that’s the case with Holby City and Casualty,” said Heath.
Ofori-Attah’s idea was radically different, combining “the authenticity that Grace brings in her writing and her knowledge of how [the medical] world works, alongside a propulsive thriller”, he said.
“I watched things such as ER and Grey’s Anatomy when I was going off to medical school, and the doctors were very heroic,” said Ofori-Attah, who was an addiction psychiatrist in north London before turning to screenwriting. “But from my day-to-day experience you don’t see the pressure that doctors are under…. It is a hard job, but you are a human being and you are flawed; you make mistakes [even though] you’re trying your best.”
Helen Behan played Dr Norma Callahan, who leads the Medical Investigation Unit’s examination into the death of an overdose victim and the possible culpability of Dr Lucinda Edwards (Niamh Algar).
Behan, who received a Bafta nomination for her performance alongside Algar and Stephen Graham in Shane Meadows and Jack Thorne’s Channel 4 drama The Virtues, was apposite casting.
“I trained as a nurse, so the language was familiar… I’ve come across what qualifies as malpractice over the years, working in hospitals and GP surgeries,” she said.
The County Meath-born actor also spoke to medical professionals and read health journals. “I went to town on the research, because it’s not just a dramatic story; things like this actually happen to people in real life,” she said.
“One of the things you hope from drama is that it will speak to someone on another level, apart from that of [being] entertainment or a thriller.”
Behan plays a tough cookie. “Her hardened edge came from wanting Dr Callahan to advocate for the patient,” she said.
Malpractice was filmed in Leeds. Ofori-Attah said: “Because I grew up in Yorkshire, the scripts were, from the start, set in Yorkshire.”
Director Philip Barantini, who shot the award-winning film Boiling Point and the subsequent BBC One series, took up the story: “We filmed the majority of the show in Shipley…. It was incredibly difficult at that time to get into a real hospital because Covid was still floating about.
“We stumbled upon the old tax office in Shipley. It was quite unbelievable what Adam Tomlinson, our production designer, did with that space.”
Heath added: “We have filmed a number of shows in Yorkshire over the years – The Hunt for Raoul Moat just before Malpractice and, going back, we did three or four years of No Angels in Leeds and Menston. “It’s a fantastic place to film – it has great crews, you get a really good spread of locations and the council is very film friendly.”
Call the Midwife writer and RTS Yorkshire Chair, Lisa Holdsworth, who chaired the RTS event, added: “God’s own country is a very welcoming place for TV and film crews.”
The second series of Malpractice will see Behan and Jordan Kouamé reprising their roles as medical investigators Callahan and Dr George Adjei. The duo will delve into another suspected case of medical negligence in a five-part series, again written by Ofori-Attah and executive produced by Heath.
No one would be drawn on details, though, with Behan admitting: “I know nothing at the moment – it is all very hush-hush.”
‘Malpractice: Online Q&A’ was held online on 17 January. It was produced by Jane Hall