Channel 4 has ordered a new Jack Thorne-penned drama, Help, set in a fictional Liverpool care home during the pandemic from The Forge. The commission comes among a newly announced slate of documentary, sitcom and fact ent.

Help (w/t), produced by The Forge in association with One Shoe Films, is a new 1×120’ drama from Thorne (His Dark Materials, National Treasure) and BAFTA award-winning director Marc Munden (The Third Day, Utopia). It stars Stephen Graham and Jodie Comer.

Help, set in a fictional Liverpool care home, tells the moving story of the relationship between a young care home worker (Comer) and a patient (Graham), whose lives are changed forever by the onset of the coronavirus pandemic last spring.

Sarah (Jodie Comer – Killing Eve, Doctor Foster) is smart, but she’s never fitted in, not in education and not in work. Her family told her she’d never amount to anything but she unexpectedly finds her calling as a carer at Sunshine Homes. Sarah has a special talent for connecting with the residents, including one in particular, 47-year-old Tony (Stephen Graham – Save Me, This is England). Tony’s Young Onset Alzheimer’s has left him living out his days in care as his mind slowly deteriorates. His illness causes periods of confusion and violent outbursts, which the other members of staff can’t handle, but with Sarah he begins to build a real bond. Sarah’s success at managing Tony and the other patients helps build her confidence and restore her self-belief.

Then March 2020 hits and everything Sarah has achieved is thrown into doubt with the arrival of the Coronavirus pandemic. She and her colleagues tirelessly fight tooth and nail, ill-equipped, poorly prepared, and seemingly left helpless by the powers that be. A determined Sarah goes to extraordinary lengths to protect those in her care, whose conditions make their suffering and isolation all the more traumatic. But the staff’s unwavering commitment, compassion and heroic efforts can only do so much, and Sarah is pushed into a dark corner and desperately looks for a way out.

Caroline Hollick, Head of Channel 4 Drama says: “This extraordinarily powerful show is right at the heart of what Channel 4 drama is all about – it will shine an unflinching light on the terrible events of 2020 through telling us a compelling, heart-wrenching relationship story. And to have Jack Thorne bringing Jodie Comer and Stephen Graham to our screens, directed by Marc Munden and produced by The Forge, is a level of talent I would be lucky to even dream of.”

Jack Thorne says: “About two years ago Stephen Graham came to me with an idea to write something for him and Jodie Comer. I tried to think of something and got nothing. Then this crisis happened, and we saw care homes getting squashed and battered by the government. It’s been both a long process and a short one, trying to find a way to tell this story, the amazing thing has been sharing in working out the story with Stephen, Jodie, the amazing Marc Munden, Beth Willis and everyone at the Forge and Channel 4. 30,000 people have died unnecessarily in these care homes because of the indifference and incompetence of our government. Hearing the stories of those at the frontline, having people break down in tears on zoom in front of us has been incredibly moving and galling. Getting the story right will be incredibly important, we are aware of the pressure upon us, this has to be written and made with anger and precision. We hope we do it justice.

Marc Munden says: “It’s a privilege to be working with Jack Thorne and The Forge again on so urgent a subject and to have the incredible honour of directing Jodie and Stephen. Help is an angry and immediate film with an unlikely tender relationship at its heart and it responds to the government’s abandonment of care homes as a result of the pandemic, a Play for Today for our times.”

Stephen Graham says: “Jack is one of the greatest and most truthful writers of our generation and in Help he has crafted a profoundly important piece of social realism. Ive wanted to work with Jodie for ages, and together were hugely passionate about shining a light on one of the biggest tragedies of our time and the people at the heart of it.”

Jodie Comer says: “I am, of course, thrilled to finally be working alongside Stephen and the supremely talented Jack, Marc and those at Channel 4. For us to be able to explore such a relevant and emotive story through the eyes of such beautifully real characters, and in our home city of Liverpool, is a real honour. Were determined to do justice to so many of the untold stories and heroes that have been affected as a result of this crisis and to handle them with care.”

Beth Willis, Executive Producer, adds: “The mutual passion and determination of Jack, Marc, Stephen and Jodie alongside the unfailing support of Caroline Hollick and Lee Mason at Channel 4 is an inspiring thing to behold. Help will remind us to celebrate the unsung heroes whose homes were invaded by a relentless and invisible killer last March. In Sarah and Tony, Jack has created two characters whose warmth and humour and tender friendship help us to not turn away from the reality of what happened.”

Help (w/t) is Executive Produced by George Faber (Roadkill, The Accident), Beth Willis (Doctor Who), Jack Thorne, Marc Munden, Stephen Graham and Jodie Comer with Jenny Frayn (The End of the F*cking World S2) producing. It will be produced by The Forge (Roadkill, National Treasure, Kiri, The Accident, Ackley Bridge) in association with One Shoe Films, for Channel 4 and has been commissioned by Channel 4’s Head of Drama, Caroline Hollick and Commissioning Editor Lee Mason. Help will receive funding and support from Liverpool Film Office through its Liverpool City Region Production Fund, it will be distributed by all3Media International. Filming will commence in 2021.

Also announced by Channel 4 is Extraordinary Escapes in which Sandi Toksvig and celebrity friends including Bake Off’s Prue Leith will be getting away from it all on a “staycation like no other” in the new travel series from Tuesday’s Child TV.

There’s also Jo Brand’s How to Stay Sane in a Mad World (w/t), 1×60’ from Two Rivers Media;  a Mel Giedroyc fronted carperntry show, Good with Wood; and a new show with comedian Rosie Jones embarking on an adventure in Rosie’s Trip Hazard and The Circle is to return.

Kathy Burke’s follow up to All Woman is new series, All Money, from Flicker Productions that will probe the gap between rich and poor in Britain today.

Hardcash Productions is to produce Rape: Behind the Headlines (working title), a two-part series looking at the policing of rape in the UK. Filmed over the course of a year, with exclusive access to Avon & Somerset Police, the series will examine the complex reasons why conviction rates for these appalling crimes are so low.

Three-part series, The Sex Traffickers (w/t), commissioned by Channel 4 and directed by BAFTA winning filmmaker Peter Beard, follows one major operation into a crime group believed to be trafficking women into the UK from Brazil to be sexually exploited. Filmed over three years in the UK, Brazil and Spain, The Story Films doc had unprecedented access to teams from the South West Regional Organised Crime Unit and the Spanish Policia Nacional.

Also from Story Films is a new doc that reveals the story of Max Clifford, the notorious publicist who was jailed for indecent assaults against underage girls and young women.

Following the success of E4’s lockdown digital hit, Remote Comedy, there will also be new E4 digital shorts with new talent including Rap Therapy, a brand-new animated series featuring the UK’s leading Grime stars, talking openly about mental health and how to cope with it.

Also announced by Channel 4 is Big Boys from Roughcut


Jon Creamer

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