TV | Breathless – Just another take on Mad Men?

As the six part ITV drama Breathless drew to a close two weeks ago LSi looks back at the Sixties period show that took our breath away. But is it just another take on Mad Men?

From the outset it’s easy to draw comparisons between the glossy new drama and the U.S Mad Men series. Yes Breathless is just as astute in its emulations of the period, with impeccable sets, costumes, scripting and filmography, managing to capture the feel of the 60s, whilst clearly leaning on Mad Men for visual inspiration. The same misogyny and issues arise time and time again, but surely we can’t compare all shows just because they employ sexism and intrigue in the 20th century. Cue the long meaningful glances, skulking around trees and corners, and all the suspicion and passion you can squeeze into 45 minute segments.

Breathless stars the rather saucy Jack Davenport as Dr. Otto Powell, whose dulcet tones turn a girl into a jittery mess, and Natasha Little as Mrs Powell whose compelling performance is wrought with suppressed emotion. Joining them are Zoe Boyle as the fiery red-head nurse Jean, who sees marrying a doctor as the only way to further her social standing and Catherine Steadman as newly transferred nurse Angela, who is caught in a conflict of 50s morals and a headstrong modern personality. Iain Glen meanwhile takes on the menacing role of Chief Inspector Mulligan, who brings Dr. Powell’s dark past to haunt him. The cast also includes the talents of Joanna Page.

The show follows a group of doctors and nurses working in a gynaecology department. It’s once we look past the facade of the big skirts, cocktails parties and perfect families that the drama truly offers something interesting. Set on the brink of a social revolution the show managed to explore family and workplace dynamics, whilst retaining style and not explicitly preaching.

Each episode delves into a particular case, the majority focusing in on the mistreatment of women by their partners and parents. Doctor Powell is the shining ray of light who believes “the law makes miserable lives and miserable women”; we almost rejoice, before we realise that he is trying to get under every skirt that passes his way and hides a gun in his desk.

Perhaps Breathless employs one too many clichés, but all of them are executed with finesse while the acting and setting are so well chosen that it’s hard not to get carried away. The drama tackles some contemporary issues including abortion, the gender stereotypes and the rise of a sexual revolution. The most interesting point however, is how oppressive society was for both women AND men, keeping up the charade of propriety. The mysteries which build throughout the short series are intellectually stimulating, even if they sometimes appear somewhat tenuous, and in many ways it’s hard not to wish for the show to have had longer to develop itself fully.

You can still watch Breathless on ITV player now. 

Anastasia Kennedy

Photo: Property of

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