Help (4 stars)


Care-home drama bristles with anger as Jodie Comer and Stephen Graham hit top form

Stephen Graham joins a list of acclaimed talents this year who have played people suffering from various forms of dementia. Stanley Tucci, Billy Crystal and Anthony Hopkins have all taken on this hot-button topic recently, but Graham's performance as Tony, a man in his 40s struggling with early onset Alzheimer's, is only half the story of Help. Given that it's set in Liverpool, that title may have led you to believe this was a slab of jaunty Beatles-tinged nostalgia, but instead it's a coruscating analysis of Britain's care-home system and how the residents were effectively abandoned when Covid hit.

Written by Jack Thorne, it brings Graham together with Jodie Comer, comprising a Scouse powerhouse duo who have long been keen to work together, and their chemistry positively bubbles. Tony finds an ally in Comer's Sarah, an inexperienced care worker who learns quickly on the job, left to almost single-handedly run a home at the height of the crisis, with staff and residents succumbing to the virus. Eventually, Sarah attempts to break Tony out of the home to save him from being drugged into submission as a means to halt his off-site wandering, seeing his potential as a good man in a sea of dodgy blokes in her life (helmed by her not-great father played by Andrew Schofield).

The switch in tones throughout (its muted social drama aspect is replaced briefly for a high-octane thriller vibe) can be a little disconcerting, but the drama pulls it altogether with a near straight-to-camera speech by Sarah as she encapsulates in a nutshell the UK government's often scant attitude towards the needy and vulnerable. Ripping into the 'we're all in this together' lie, it comes straight after a radio broadcast of former Health Secretary Matt Hancock talking of the protective ring the Tories were throwing around care homes. The anger is palpable and Comer's performance bristles with righteous ire at the injustices served on those who most need help.

Help, Channel 4, Thursday 16 September, 9pm.