We're spoilt for choice for when it comes to television. With multiple platforms available to viewers, from network television to cable and streaming services there is literally no shortage of side-splitting comedy or hard-hitting drama these days. And we're not just talking about the US as we've seen somewhat of a revolution when it comes to British television. I mean, compelling British dramas have always been there, but platforms like Netflix and PBS have ensured that other countries around the world are enjoying the same shows that have the Brits raving.
If, like me, you prefer your dramas with a touch of realism, then perhaps you're craving a new British series to sink your teeth into. Well, look no further because you've found it — BBC's latest compelling drama is about a female doctor who has plenty of personal issues to deal with, and no before you ask, I'm not talking about Doctor Who. BBC's exceptional drama Doctor Foster follows Gemma Foster, a General Practitioner with a practice in the small town of Parminster, whose world is rocked when she begins to suspect her husband of having an affair.
While the concept sounds awfully familiar to so many great (and not so great) dramas we've seen over the years, creator and writer Mike Bartlett handles these recycled concepts in a way that gives them new life and an originality that we haven't seen before. This makes Doctor Foster an unmissable thrill ride.
Doctor Foster was an immediate hit in the United Kingdom when the first season aired back in 2015, and it went on to win multiple awards including a National Television Award for Best New Drama. Although originally envisioned as a mini-series, the hit show returned to UK screens last month for its second season and, shockingly, it's every bit as good as the first. With the perfect blend of reality and melodrama, Doctor Foster makes for compelling viewing and its cinematography is unlike anything else on television.
A Compelling, Relatable Storyline With A Fresh Perspective
Compelling dramas often focus on conflicted protagonists that find themselves in complex situations, forcing them to make a tough decision. For example, Breaking Bad's Walter White must find a way to financially support his family for when he passes away, but it involves him going down a dark path. What does he do? Similarly, Game Of Thrones's Daenerys Targaryen has a good heart, but in order to succeed in her battle and win the Iron Throne, sacrifices have to made. Thus Daenerys has to make a choice: Will she do whatever it takes to rule or will she give up her sacred throne?
We could spend all day discussing the difficult choices that our favorite protagonists face — God knows there are plenty to choose from — but the one thing that they all share is the overbearing pressure to make a decision. Sometimes, it will be the most difficult choice they'll ever have to make.
However, you may find that these decisions are somewhat complex and often separated from reality. The appealing thing about Doctor Foster (and likely the reason it has been so successful in its UK homeland) is the fact that its protagonist, Gemma Foster, is simply an ordinary person who, like Breaking Bad's Walter White, finds herself in an extraordinary situation. Gemma begins to suspect that her husband is having an affair, which turns her life upside down. What makes Doctor Foster so unique is that it isn't about whether or not Simon Foster is having an affair, it's about the seed of doubt that is planted in Gemma's head, and how once it's there it won't ever go away. Not until she discovers what is going on and is certain of her husband's innocence... or of his guilt.
Without giving away too much, Gemma's conflict is one of television's most upsetting, because her newfound doubt is in direct opposition with the trust that she has for her husband, which stems from her need to see the best in him. This doubt is clouding that sacred trust and she must unravel the puzzle and find the answers that she so desperately craves in order to continue to play the loving wife. As a conflict, Gemma's is one of the strongest we've seen on television in recent years. Why? Because it's a subject that many of us can relate to.
It's a sad fact, but a lot of married people have affairs and, in this day and age, it'd be a rare occasion to not find an article in a daily newspaper covering some sort of celebrity marital breakdown. Once the seed of doubt is planted, it will keep growing and growing, and it won't stop growing until it's cut off at the source. And that's likely why so many people find Doctor Foster, despite it's occasional dose of melodrama, so realistic.
There Are No Heroes In Doctor Foster
While viewers will likely run to Gemma's side at the beginning of the series, it becomes clear in later episodes that the character isn't the most emotionally stable person on television. And of course no one can blame her for that; she suspects her husband of having an affair, she has every right to be emotionally unstable. However, Gemma goes to extreme lengths to discover the truth and her actions are somewhat terrifying. I don't know about everyone else, but I definitely found myself questioning whether I was supposed to be perturbed by her decision-making skills at some points throughout the first season.
However, it didn't take me long to realize that, yes her actions may be a little shady, but the reality is is that nobody knows how they would react in a situation like Gemma's until they find themselves in it.
Writer Mike Bartlett ensures that Gemma's actions, whilst occasionally worrying, are entirely believable for her; she's an average woman who has found herself thrust into this unnatural situation and is trying to find her way out of it as best as she can. There is no manual for her predicament. Having said that, we still question Gemma's sanity throughout the show (and continue to do so in the second season), and there are occasional moments where I've even disliked her character.
Bartlett has created a believable character in Gemma, which makes her drastic actions completely believable. Gemma may be our protagonist and we may be experiencing this traumatic event through her eyes, but make no mistake she is no hero, and every now and again we're left questioning whether she is, in fact, the villain. In reality, she's neither — she's just Gemma and like every other person in the real world, Gemma makes mistakes.
The Cinematography Is Great
Unlike film, cinematography or direction isn't something that we often discuss when talking about TV. However, streaming services and cable networks have aided in giving television a more cinematic feel in recent years, with shows like Stranger Things and The Handmaid's Tale experimenting with different aspect ratios and filming techniques. Doctor Foster is the latest show to experiment with cinematography and, interestingly, one of the things that initially drew me to the BBC series was its unusual aspect ratio.
The majority of television shows are broadcast with an aspect ratio of 1:78:1, which is the industry standard. Why? Likely because it fills the entire television screen, giving the viewers a more immersive experience. However Doctor Foster is broadcast with an aspect ratio of 2:35:1 — a ratio usually reserved for cinema — giving the series an unusual filmic feel, which goes hand in hand with the intensity of the show.
Rumor has it that Bartlett opted for this ratio because he wanted to highlight what happens when an ordinary person finds themselves in an extraordinary situation. If we think about it, films are usually extraordinary by nature and the more extraordinary the world, the more a wider aspect ratio is preferred. Why? Perhaps because we're not expected to take it as reality. The films of the DC Extended Universe, for example, use a similar aspect ratio, which give the movies an other-worldly feel, but Doctor Foster's use of this cinematic aspect ratio is a complete juxtaposition to the mundane day-to-day events of the show — yet somehow it pays off beautifully.
Unfortunately, for some unknown reason, syndicated versions of the first season (including the version on Netflix) have been altered to a 1:78:1 ratio so that the show fills your entire screen, but, for me, the altered format kills the intensity that the original aspect ratio gave the show. Perhaps that won't matter to you, but if you're wanting the full Doctor Foster experience, I urge you to watch the letter-boxed version.
In addition to the aspect ratio, the show is magnificently filmed. The various directors have used depth of field shots during Gemma's most intense moments, whereby the camera is presumably mere inches from actress Suranne Jones's face, allowing us, as viewers, to feel the awkwardness and the humiliation that Gemma experiences, as if we are there with her.
In addition to the closeness, the other great thing about a depth of field shot is that the background is blurred, meaning that we're focusing on nothing else but Gemma and her upsetting reactions. In other words, everything else fades away and we are left with Gemma and her distress. The cinematography intensifies the already intense world of Doctor Foster.
Suranne Jones Leads A Superb, Compelling Cast
Of course, a Doctor Foster recommendation would not be complete without mentioning the insanely talented actress who portrays our protagonist. There are few words to describe the brilliant Suranne Jones, who brings Gemma to life with a performance so nuanced it's hard believe what we're witnessing isn't reality. If you've seen the equally brilliant Scott & Bailey then you might have an idea of how good she is, but Doctor Foster is without a doubt Jones's best work yet.
Additionally, Bertie Carvel, who plays Simon, is wonderful in his role, making viewers both love him and hate him (often at the same time). Tom Taylor, whom many of you may recognize from recent blockbuster film #TheDarkTower, delivers a fantastic performance as Tom, Gemma and Simon's troubled young son, conveying the character's inner thoughts and feelings with nothing more than a simple facial expression. Although Taylor has been with the show since the beginning, he's really had a chance to shine in the second season and his performance alone is enough reason to tune in.
The storyline basis for Doctor Foster may not scream originality, but the way Bartlett handles the storyline absolutely does. From Gemma's actions, to the cinematic filming style of the show, Doctor Foster is an immersive experience that certainly isn't worth missing out on. Your preferred genre isn't important here, because Doctor Foster pulls you in with its remarkable script and beautiful cinematography, in addition to its top-notch acting. There's not much more I can say really, except that next time you're feeling under the weather and fancy a sneaky day off from work, I'm prescribing you a large binge-watching session of one of Britain's best drama series. Don't forget to stop by Gemma's practice, because Doctor Foster will see you now.
Doctor Foster is available on Netflix.
Will you be paying a visit to Doctor Foster's practice? Have you seen the show already? Tell me your thoughts and opinions in the comment section below.