Engage: Bafta winner on ‘raw’ interviews with care home staff who carry burden of the pandemic

Screenwriter and playwright Jack Thorne has said the care home workers he spoke to while researching his drama Help were the “rawest” people he has ever heard.

And he feels that “no one is looking after them” as they still carry the “burden” of the pandemic.

Thorne, the winner of five Baftas, was inspired to write the TV film starring Jodie Comer and Stephen Graham (pictured), which explores a care home bearing the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic, after reading about Covid-19 devastating these centres in a local newspaper.

The 43-year-old grew up around the care sector as this mother was also a care worker which helped him with the story’s background.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, he said: “I’ve done a lot of quite hard-hitting stuff that involved talking to people who had quite a lot of trauma happen to them, this is the rawest I have ever heard people.

“They were still going through it and they hadn’t come to terms with what had happened. The thing that broke my heart more than anything else is they thought they were responsible.

“They were angry with the Government and they were angry with this and they were angry with that but they kept on saying ‘I let my residents down’.

“And they’re still carrying the burden for it and no one is looking after them.”

The Channel 4 drama, which was released in September, tells the story of a young care home worker, played by Comer, and a 47-year-old man with early-onset Alzheimer’s, portrayed by Graham, as their lives are changed by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking on his inspiration for the drama, he added: “There was a story about a care home that had lost an extraordinary number of residents and I had not understood that bit of the crisis yet, and it was like ‘Well a story needs to be told about this because telly can take you inside things well’.

“And so we started researching it and the more we heard the more terrible it became. The way this country behaved during that time towards disabled people, I mean that the first 100,000 deaths 60,000 were disabled, and towards care homes, in particular, is extraordinary.”

Thorne has previously written for TV series and films including His Dark Materials and Enola Holmes, as well as writing the script for Harry Potter And The Cursed Child, the Olivier and Tony award-winning play based on the wizarding books by JK Rowling.

The acclaimed writer, who was diagnosed with the chronic condition cholinergic urticaria at the age of 20, actively speaks out about representation for the disabled community within the TV industry.

While delivering the MacTaggart lecture at this year’s Edinburgh TV Festival, he urged the industry to do more for disabled people, saying it has “utterly and totally” failed them.

Reflecting on what needs to change while on Desert Island Discs, he said: “Lots of things. And there has been historic exclusion for years and there’s been a lot of other people telling disabled stories.

“People go ‘How do you feel about non-disabled actors playing a disabled role?’ That is not the only issue.

“The issue is that the director is also not disabled, the writer is also not disabled and they are telling a story that they are poorly equipped to tell and so there’s no truth in it and if there’s no truth in it, then TV doesn’t work.”

Desert Island Discs airs on BBC Sounds and BBC Radio 4 on Sunday at 11am.

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