Angels – Facing Up (25th May 1976)

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Three very different stories relating to pregnancy unfold during the fifty minutes of Facing Up. The first features Ann Clark (Patricia Hassell) who is initially regarded with a jaundiced eye by Pat.  Maybe it was early in the morning, but Pat’s bedside manner seems decidedly rough and ready. When the slightly drippy Ann confesses that she doesn’t have a towel, Pat (through gritted teeth) tells her that she can probably find one.

Later, when a concerned Maureen discusses Ann’s case with Pat, Ms Rutherford doesn’t seem too bothered about the news that Ann could lose her baby – surely it’s easy enough to get another one ….

Mind you, all of the doctors and nurses are a little offhand with Ann.  Mainly they spend their time telling her not to worry, which only tends to make her worry even more.  Marc Zuber, as a breezily unconcerned doctor, for example.

At first, it’s hard to see the relevance of a later scene – Pat enjoying a slap up meal with her Uncle James (Frederick Jaeger) – but things quickly begin to make sense as pregnancy story number two is developed.  Pat is shocked to discover that both her parents never really wanted children (although Uncle James is quick to back-peddle a bit as he tells her that her father loves her now). Derek Martinus, as he’s done before, favours ever-tighter close ups of both Jaeger and Fullerton as the drama unfolds.

This scene impacts the reminder of the episode as Pat, ruminating bitterly over the fact that she was an unwanted child, then has to go back to the hospital and care for Ann, who wants a baby more than anything else in the world.  Her husband, Tom (Conrad Asquith), might be as equally drippy as she is, but there’s no doubting the love he has for her (or the fact that he’s equally as committed to their baby).

When Ann breaks down in tears, it’s an interesting touch that Pat freezes for a second before swiftly crossing over to comfort her.  From this point Pat’s earlier tension is erased and the pair bond.  Although there’s been some doubt throughout the episode about whether the baby will survive, there’s also been a feelgood vibe about this part of the story – so it’s not too surprising that everything goes well and Mr and Mrs Clark take charge of a healthy – albeit small – boy.

The scenes of Ann giving birth are, as you’d expect for a pre-watershed series, not very explicit but are still effective (Ann’s blurry POV reaction is especially well done). Derek Martinus really only blots his copybook when we quickly switch to stock film several times in order to show the child. Having a freshly born baby in the studio would have been very tricky of course, but this moment doesn’t convince at all.

Pregnancy story number three concerns Sandra, who’s out and about and developing her occupational heath skills.  Attached to a trading estate covering several factories, this gives her plenty of opportunity to interact with a wide range of people.  Everything seems a little too jolly and tidy to begin with though – as a female in a predominately male factory environment you’d have expected her to be on the receiving end of some hefty dollops of sexism.  But no, everyone’s as nice as pie ….

Although one worker (the distinctive Declan Mulholland) initially bristles at the way Sandra chides him about the strain he’s putting on his back, he quickly realises that she’s talking sense and begins to lift the boxes just like she suggests. Another worker (Ken Kitson) is quick to pop by with an offer of a cup of tea whilst Denis Swainson (John Bardon) seems equally as affable.

But there’s a sting in Swainson’s tale which is connected to his daughter, Barbara (Vanessa Paine).  Barbara is sixteen years old and devastated to be told by Sandra that she’s pregnant.

Vulnerable and worried, Barbara is insistent that her father can’t be told. But when Sandra unwisely drops some broad hints to Mr Swainson, it results in a black eye for Barbara (who is also kicked out of the family home).  I find it interesting that this storyline veers off in a rather unexpected way.  We seem to have been set up for another happy ending – Barbara and her father coming together thanks to Sandra’s intervention – but this is brutally snatched away in an instant.

The episode also deliberately doesn’t follow this story to its natural conclusion. Mr Swainson hits Barbara off-screen (and doesn’t appear again after the scene he shares with Sandra).  It’s made painfully clear to Sandra that she had no cause to meddle in the case and that her rash action has only made a bad situation much worse.

Angels always favoured storytelling from the nurses point of view. It would switch viewpoints as and when required, but since Sandra is prevented from speaking to Mr Swainson again it makes sense for the viewers to also be denied the opportunity to see him.

The three separate storylines – Ann, Pat and Barbara – are all decent enough when taken in isolation, but the way they meld into each other is the episode’s main strength.

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One thought on “Angels – Facing Up (25th May 1976)

  1. Perhaps Nurse Ling exudes an aura of being able to carry herself that precludes the workmen from messing her about. Looking at Angela Bruce’s CV, it looks like about half the roles that she’s played over the last 50 years have been health professionals of some description (including an obscure biopic of Mary Seacole).

    Looking at my notes for this one, I see that I was impressed by Derek Martinus’ direction and how it draws out the nuances of characters’ interactions:

    Moments of interest come from the nuances rather than the stories themselves, particularly occasional small moments of inconsiderate bedside manner – there’s a fascinating exchange between a doctor and the patient whose waters have broken a month early, in which his every response fails to assuage the woman’s worries.

    Derek Martinus’ characteristic big close-ups in intense exchanges help to bring out these undercurrents. Perhaps the best moment is when the patient finally breaks down in tears and exposes her fear and vulnerability. In her previous scene with Nurse Rutherford we saw the professional fail to show the empathy and attention that one would hope for, setting up a tension for their next meeting. The patient’s moment of greatest vulnerability is shown in a CU that lasts for a long time, with the nurse out of shot. The withheld information of how the nurse is reacting becomes increasingly important for the viewer, encouraging us to pay close attention as we look for indications in the patient’s expression.

    Liked by 1 person

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