“Monroe”, the brand new series from ITV, stars James Nesbitt as egotistical neurosurgeon Gabriel Monroe. It is essentially a British version of “House” complete with quips, witticisms and dark humour. Monroe is a consultant full of confidence, brains and a failing relationship. Charming with patients yet absent from home, he walks a fine line in all he does.
Two teams vie for supremacy in the corridors of the hospital – the cardiac surgical team, and the neurosurgery team. The opposing specialists lose no time getting the digs in and, unfortunately, Monroe’s protegé Daniel Springer (Luke Allen-Gale) turns out to be an embarrassment in the banter stakes.
Sarah Smart (Wallander, Funland) and Shaun Evans (Come Rain Come Shine, The Take, The Virgin Queen) guest star in episode one.
Peter Bowker wrote the series and rooted part of the story in his own experience with brain surgery:
“When my daughter was four years she had a brain tumour. For five days my partner and I inhabited the world which I had created in so many medical scenarios. We were the waiting couple; she was the beautiful child with so many tubes coming off her she looked like a musical instrument. And we sat there, staring without understanding at a scan, while a brain surgeon explained what he was going to do . . .
“A brain surgeon? In my life? How did this feel? I still can’t tell you. Maybe that’s why I’m writing about it.
“And the surgeon. A stranger. Who I trusted. With my daughter’s life. This was his job. To sound hopeful while not sounding overly optimistic. To sound clear about the operation without sounding brutal. To sound warnings without sending us into a hopeless spiral of despair. And having done that bit he just had to go and do the operation itself . . . what was that like for him?
“He operated successfully. My daughter’s tumour was removed. Non-cancerous. A full recovery. A good news story. We leave the hospital with the cards, presents and profound relief. To get on with our lives.
“And tomorrow the Surgeon has to go and do it all again. And see families to whom he has often to break bad news not good. He goes to work knowing that today somebody might die, or be irreparably brain damaged, as a result of his actions in trying to heal them.
“So what was that like? To do a surgeon’s job. To live with that weight of expectation. To be that brilliant? To be that important? To have each job you do be literally a matter of life or death?
““You’re taking a knife to somebody’s head. The only difference between you and a psychopath is good ‘A’ levels’
“What if I created a surgeon who wasn’t cut from the usual cloth? He would have to retain the God complex. I want a surgeon to have a God complex. You don’t take the top of somebody’s head off and start fiddling inside their brain without a fairly inflated view of your own worth. And I wouldn’t want it any other way. But I was interested in somebody unexpected being a surgeon. Somebody without the accent and manner you might expect, somebody who might look and sound more like the man who came to repair your washing machine. A man who was a deity at work and all too mortal at home. That, surely, would make a good starting point for a drama. A surgeon who was both God and everyman.”
The series was filmed in Leeds, with the cast enjoying a karaoke night on the town once filming was finished. Peter Bowker and members of the cast worked closely with neurosurgeons, Henry Marsh and Philip Van Hille, as well as Roddy O’Kane – a registrar at the LGI – and anaesthetist Dr Audrey Quinn, to find out more about the work and ethos within the profession. Lead James Nesbitt also spent time with the surgeons in theatre as part of his research for the part, witnessing four brain operations:
“It was incredibly generous of the patients and the medical teams to allow me this access. From my time spent on hospital wards and in surgery I was able to understand and appreciate the day-to-day life of a neurosurgeon.
“I’ve seen how neurosurgeons drill through the skull, pull back the skin on the head and make an incision into the brain. I’ve seen the brain, which is an amazing organ, pulsing away. I’ve seen the revelation of an angry, horrible, grey-black tumour, which has then been removed. I’ve seen how difficult this job is and the decisions that have to be made very quickly when faced with an emergency. It’s incredible to know that the brain can survive some of the procedures that surgeons perform.
“During an operation conducted by Henry Marsh, I remember him pointing out specific areas of the brain saying, ‘that area there, that’s thought’, and that’s astonishing to see.”
The experiences of filming Monroe left several cast members with a huge appreciation of the work of the NHS in the UK, which provides free health care to citizens for operations such as these. James Nesbitt has become involved with a related charity based in Wakefield, called Second Chance Headway.
An excellent new series from ITV. Highly recommended viewing.
“Monroe” premieres on 10th March 2011 on ITV1 at 9pm.
James Nesbitt as Gabriel Monroe
Sarah Parish (The Pillars of the Earth, Mistresses, Cutting It) as Jenny Bremner
Tom Riley (Bouquet of Barbed Wire, Lost in Austen) as Dr Laurence Shepherd
Manjinder Virk (Britz, Bradford Riots) as Sally Fortune
Thomas Morrison (Brideshead Revisited, Blackpool) as Lee Bradley
Susan Lynch (Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Nora) as Anna
Luke Allen-Gale as Daniel Springer
Michelle Asante as Kitty Wilson
Andrew Gower as Andrew Mullery
Christina Chong as Sarah Witney
Writer: Peter Bowker (Eric and Ernie, Occupation, Desperate Romantics, Wuthering Heights)
Producer: Jennie Scanlon
Co-producer: Howard Ella
Executive producers: Michele Buck and Damien Timmer
from Mammoth Screen
Directors: Paul McGuigan (Sherlock, Lucky Number Slevin, Gangster No. 1) and David Moore (Merlin, Sweeney Todd, The Forsythe Saga)