Hailed as “the best medical drama in years” by TIME, This Is Going To Hurt is now available to binge on Showmax.
Emmy winner Ben Whishaw (Mary Poppins Returns, Q in the last three Bond films, and the voice of Paddington) stars as real-life doctor Adam Kay, whose bestselling memoir of the same name was based on his diaries, scribbled in secret after endless days, sleepless nights and missed weekends, telling the unvarnished truth of life as a doctor working in obstetrics and gynaecology, “also known as brats and twats”, as he says in the show.
Asked how it feels to have Ben playing him in the TV show, Adam says, “To have the finest actor of his generation playing me? In a career-defining performance? …Yeah, it’s OK, I guess.”
Directed by BAFTA winners Lucy Forbes (The End Of The F***ing World) and Tom Kingsley (Stath Lets Flats), the seven-part limited series is MetaCritic’s eighth best-reviewed series of 2022 so far and has a 95% critics’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Newcomer Ambika Mod’s co-starring role as Shruti, a junior doctor, saw her hailed as “2022’s first bona fide breakout” by GQ, alongside a cast that includes the likes of Emmy nominee Dame Harriet Walter (Killing Eve, The Crown, Succession), and BAFTA nominee Alex Jennings (A Very English Scandal, The Queen, The Crown).
The actors received basic medical training from working medical advisors, while real hospital staffers played the extras. “No corners are cut on the medical side of things,” says Ambika. “We really learned how to do a caesarean; we really learned how to do a forceps procedure; we really learned how to do all that stuff. It’s as true to life as we could have made it.”
“But,” she continues, “it’s also really funny. I think human beings are f***ing ridiculous, like, we are ridiculous as people, and life is ridiculous. And I don’t think that’s [ever] more true than it is in a hospital, when human life is at its most exposed, its most vulnerable, its most desperate, and you just can’t help but laugh when you’re crying and vice versa. So it’s testament to the ridiculousness and complexity of human emotion as well.”
“A lot of the humour,” Ben says, “is just drawn directly from real-life stuff that happened to Adam. And to a degree, a lot of the jokes are Adam’s way of coping, I suppose, with the pressures of being a doctor.”
Adam believes that’s the only honest way to portray life in a hospital – as a comedy-drama. “A sitcom could never speak to the urgency and tragedy of life on the wards, nor could a straight drama convey the funny and ridiculous situations that pepper every doctor’s day,” he says. “You can have a hilarious moment in an antenatal clinic that you know you’ll be recounting in pubs for years, and two minutes later you’re telling a patient that you can’t find their baby’s heartbeat – it’s a job of contrasts and constant gear-shifts.”
It’s these contrasting realities that Adam, who adapted the script and executive produced the series himself, set out to portray. “My diaries were published in the first place because I wanted people to understand the true nature of a doctor’s job. I think people were definitely surprised: the constant tsunami of bodily fluids, earning less than the hospital parking metre, and the difficulty in maintaining friendships and relationships when you’re working 97-hour weeks.”
“I certainly didn’t know any of this when I applied to be a doctor in the first place,” Adam admits, “and I rather wish I had. I’ve had messages from angry parents telling me that my book has put their children off a career in medicine – I’m pretty sure that if a book put them off being a doctor then being a doctor would have really put them off. The TV show has the capacity to reach a far bigger audience, and really let them know about the huge toll being a doctor takes on the human beings underneath the scrubs.”
“It really isn’t like any medical drama or comedy that I’ve ever experienced before,” says Ambika. “There’s absolutely nothing shiny about the show. It’s funny, it’s cruel, it’s disgusting, it’s gruesome, and… it’s so much about the job. With other [hospital shows], there is a lot of focus on characters who just happen to work in a hospital. Whereas, here, the job itself, and the NHS, is very much front and centre.”
Adam hopes the show will help shift the dial on how the healthcare system deals with the mental wellbeing of its staff. “People will potentially be very surprised about quite how deep the deep end is in medicine,” he says, “and how steep the learning curve accordingly has to be. I wish I could say that any aspect of this has been exaggerated. By the very nature of the job, there are a lot of ‘bad days’, and on a labour ward, those bad days can obviously be extremely bad.”
“The attitude in medicine is very stiff-upper-lip,” he says. “You’re a bloody doctor and you bloody get on with it. The book and the show both highlight doctors struggling after difficult incidents. When the book was released, I was contacted by dozens of medics who told me that until they read it they thought they were the first doctor who’d ever cried in the locker room. The truth is most doctors end up crying in a locker room but no one ever really talks about it. Things have got slightly better since I last did a shift on the labour ward, but not better enough, and not fast enough.”
“It raises a lot of questions about who looks after the people who look after us,” Ambika says. “All these people… they’re humans just as much as we are. And they are as fallible. They are as prone to illness, as prone to mental health issues as the rest of us, and I think we often tend to forget that.”