Poppy Shakespeare (4 stars)

Poppy Shakespeare

Channel 4, Mon 31 Mar, 9pm


The point where the axis swings between madness and sanity, the fiscal-led emphasis of modern health politics and the desire to find our place in the world are at the heart of this excellent drama based on the debut novel by Clare Allan. Freely admitting to having spent almost a third of her life in psychiatric establishments, Allan clearly knew what she was writing about and director Benjamin Ross (The Young Poisoner’s Handbook) brings out both the poetic and tragic elements of the story with finesse.

A self-confessed ‘dribbler’ called ‘N’ is a long-term psychiatric patient at the Dorothy Fish day hospital and has little intention of leaving when the enigmatic Poppy is admitted very much against her will. Poppy flaps under N’s wing and realises that she has a tricky battle ahead to convince the authorities that she is not ‘a nutter’.

When we think about it with cold-eyed clarity, mental illness is about as funny as a Jim Davidson comeback tour, but the superlative performance of Anna Maxwell Martin as N is laced with many moments of subtle humour. Naomie Harris as the eponymous Poppy goes more for a full-blown scary descent into madness when her campaign to prove her sanity goes drastically down the tubes. A damning indictment of NHS politics, the drama portrays a deranged, empty world in which people are not even numbers; they can simply be a letter.


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