TV: Sixty minutes to save a life with the best cast in town


Created by Jed Mercurio (Line of Duty) and boasting a top-drawer cast that includes Lennie James (Line of Duty, The Walking Dead), Claire Skinner (Outnumbered), Catherine Walker (Strike Back) and Kimberley Nixon (Fresh Meat), Critical is set in a state-of-the-art major trauma centre, a unit which treats only the most gravely ill or seriously injured.

Each episode features a new and distinctive case told with thrilling intensity.

Whether that patient lives or dies is determined by knife-edge decisions and procedures, but can the diverse team of medical professionals knit together and rise to the challenge?

We talked to star Lennie James . . .

What attracted you to Critical?

“Two words: Jed Mercurio. He is a superb writer, and we discovered when we worked together on Line of Duty that we speak each other’s language. Also it’s a fantastic leading part, and the concept of a real-time medical show is brilliant. So when I was offered the part of Glen, it was a complete no-brainer to accept it.”

What did you like about the character of Glen?

“His back story was enough to convince me to do the part. For the past two years he has been jumping from war zone to disaster area and has come to this hospital straight from Camp Bastion in Afghanistan. He was a lieutenant colonel, and when he told people what to do, they went and did it. There was no arguing. But now he is returning to a brand-new team in an NHS hospital, and he doesn’t outrank anyone as he did in the Army. He has to learn to deal with that.”

Can you elaborate on his character?

“He’s got to the position of consultant in the hospital and lieutenant colonel in the Army, and I’ve used that to figure out the struggles he’s been through and who he is. For instance, he is excessively polite, which is his attempt to make the transition from soldier to civilian. He still barks, but now he puts in “please” and “thank you”. But ultimately I play the man, not the position he holds. “

Glen also has to deal with working with his ex, Fiona, doesn’t he?

“Yes. He has to work alongside the woman he has loved and lost. Their affair was fuelled by how well they worked together. They were a really well-oiled machine. But something traumatic happened between them. She thinks he didn’t handle it well, while he thinks he was only doing what she told him to do. But now she’s called him and brought him back to this hospital – and many complications ensue!”

Is there still something between them?

“Yes. In the two years they have been apart, they have realised a lot about each other. Over the course of the 13 episodes, you discover what they really mean to each other.

“It’s a bumpy, but compelling ride.”

Can you explain the show’s unique format to us?

“What is brilliant about Critical is its “real time-ness”. We’re trying to be as close to reality as possible, and I think we’ve achieved it better than anything outside documentary. So we don’t go home with the characters. The patient comes in to the trauma unit and the clock starts ticking. And everything plays out in that magic hour. “

How have you found it having to act out surgical procedures?

“I was so nervous when I had to do my first laparotomy, but Gary, a real-life surgeon, was at the monitor watching me.

“He taught me how to cut. Afterwards he said that I had surgeon’s hands, and he felt that I could save lives with them. I probably couldn’t, but I’m so pleased he said my hands looked like they knew what they were doing. I have won awards, but that is among the highest compliments I’ve ever received.”

Have you enjoyed working with this ensemble cast?

“Definitely. It’s been relentless for the last 10 months, but it’s been fantastic. We’ve been very lucky because we’ve had an amazing bunch of people here, and we all get on so well.”

Would you like to have been a doctor?

“If I was 18 again, I’d try medicine. That was never a possibility when I was growing up – it never came across my radar. But if I had my time again and I knew then what I know now, it could be a possibility. Having said that, I feel incredibly lucky. I’m doing a job I love, and it brings me immense satisfaction. The fact that I’m paid to do it is just a plus.

“It’s the best job in the world – outside of being a professional footballer, which sadly was never a possibility!”

Did you learn a lot from shadowing real medical professionals?

“Absolutely. The time I spent with the medical advisers and with the staff at St George’s Hospital in Tooting has completely turned my head. Their commitment to saving lives is unbelievable. Their skill, knowledge, selflessness, and sense of humour are amazing.They’re staggering human beings. I grew up with Marvel Comics, but people like that are now my definition of superheroes!”