Perennial drama stalwarts John Simm and Adrian Lester come face to face in a battle of wills that’s more concerned with morality than anything else. Trauma, which airs over the next three nights on ITV is a hospital procedural without the technical lingo and west country accents. It’s a crime drama without any of the forensic detective work. Simm, who is omnipresent on the day Trauma airs because he’s also appearing in Collateral on BBC2 at the same time, plays Dan Bowker, a father of three down on his luck. On the same day he’s given notice of redundancy his son ends up in hospital after a knife attack. The cause of the crime isn’t the main issue here, it’s strongly implied a school friend did it as an act of girl related jealousy but the focus is placed on the cause of his death in hospital and the fallout from it.
As a panicked Dan comes to his son’s side in hospital halls he’s alerted to trauma surgeon Jon Allerton’s (Lester) casual approach. He’s assured his son’s condition is not going to be fatal. In true TV fashion he breaks in (or rather walks in unchallenged) to the surgery room to witness the operation and finds himself further concerned by the man in charge of a loved one’s life. Of course, he needed to see this for the sake of the storyline so do we but it is an overused cliche. Minutes later Dan and wife Susie, played by the brilliant but thus far underused Lyndsey Marshal, are told of his death and what follows is a battle of wills in a similar vein to last years Liar. It’s not like a character played by John Simm to distrust a Doctor is it?
Of course, we know Dan isn’t hiding anything but is he imagining something that isn’t there? Like he did when picturing his dead boy in the park? The harassment by Bowker is unnerving at times but it’s understandable given his situation. Simm plays the heartbreak and bitterness well, never leaning into unsympathetic territory. Yet. He stalks Jon on the internet, he hangs around the school of his daughter and he makes the surgeon’s words come back to bite him. From little things like “I’ll be be back in five minutes” to the acceptance he had drinks on his birthday which, due to internet research we soon find out was the same night of the operation (Jon was called in on a night off). Will all this boiling resentment and bitterness result in Dan doing something incredibly stupid and/or dangerous?
Allerton is holding his cards close to his chest but as Dan spotted, his eyes are telling a different story entirely. the surgeon walks and talks with charm and confidence but guilt covers him like paint on a canvas and Lester shows the two sides of the canvas well. We’re never quite sure what he’s thinking. The powerful funeral scene is an excellent example of this. Bowker stands in front of everyone (including a certain medical professional) to express how angry he is, how he wants to hold someone responsible, how the loss of such a young life is a waste. Yet despite this, Jon approaches them afterwards with kind words before the accusations fired at him show worry behind those eyes.
It’s not clear what relevance Allerton’s family have in all this but they have much more screen time than Dan’s. In particular, daughter Alana’s relationship and work ambitions. As this is written by Mike Bartlett, a playwright and the man responsible for Doctor Foster, it’s likely the seeds have been planted with good reason. It’s a compelling opening that sets up plenty of intrigue. At times the music may be almost as intrusive as the offending knife but that’s a phase gritty dramas are going through. At least there weren’t any shots of people staring out to sea.
Trauma Continues Tomorrow at 9.00pm on ITV.