‘This Is Going to Hurt’ Is a Love Letter to Britain’s National Health Service ‘Genital Warts and All,’ Says Creator

This Is Going To Hurt
Sister/Anika Molnar

Adam Kay’s TV adaptation of his 2017 memoir “This Is Going to Hurt” paints a portrait of Britain’s beleaguered National Heath Service that is “genital warts and all,” according to the screenwriter. Its purpose, he says, is reminding audiences of the thankless and often unrecognized work of healthcare professionals.

Starring Ben Whishaw (“No Time to Die”) as a junior doctor with the NHS during the early 2000s, the BBC-AMC co-production is set on a labor ward around 2004 — a full 15 years before the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the publicly funded healthcare system to the very brink. Yet as the show plainly presents, the NHS has lacked adequate resources for years, and its staff have paid the price.

“I want people who work at the NHS to watch and know I did a fair representation of their job,” said Kay, speaking as part of a webinar in January alongside producer Jane Featherstone, director Lucy Forbes, and stars Whishaw and Ambika Mod. The show is based on Kay’s collection of diary entries from his time as a junior doctor that formed his bestselling memoir.

“I want other people to rethink their relationship with healthcare professionals,” continued Kay. “Not once did a patient wonder if I wanted to be there. It’s easy to forget that the people looking after you are all humans. You don’t want to think that because humans make mistakes, but they are. This is genital warts and all. [The show] is very much a love letter to the NHS, with all of its flaws and characters.”

Said Whishaw: “Something [director Forbes] and I talked about a lot is how so many of these people are longing for recognition that just isn’t given. You deliver the baby, hand it to the mother and then you’re gone — out of the picture, and barely looked at sometimes. I was struck by how incredibly difficult that must be.”

Filming during the early days of the pandemic posed even more serious challenges for the production. Whishaw explained that there was initially a plan to go to a hospital and observe a few procedures being done in order to get a feel for operations that the actors would eventually have to act out.

“But that wasn’t possible because we were in the middle of a lockdown, so we had a few afternoons with three brilliant doctors who were our advisers,” said Whishaw, who received a “crash course” on prosthetic body parts alongside co-star Mod, who plays Adam’s colleague Shruti.

“We did so much Caesarian training that if push came to shove and Ben or Ambika really had to do it, I think they could do,” joked Forbes.

Produced by “Chernobyl” outfit Sister Productions and Terrible Productions, the seven-part series is unlike other procedural-focused medical shows, like “ER,” “House” or even “New Amsterdam.”

“The most important thing for me was that this is based on a book based on real experiences,” says Forbes. “Everyone knows what the inside of the NHS looks like. For me, it was important that our characters felt real and it was authentic…I didn’t want it to feel like another medical drama: I leaned into naturalistic lighting and kept the show moving, and we worked hard on camera palettes to make sure it felt as elevated as possible.”

Adds Featherstone: “Anyone who has experience of the NHS knows the chaos that it is — the wonderful chaos that it is. It is a challenge to adapt a book like that.”

Could there be pushback from audiences upset at seeing a dilapidated NHS, replete with inefficiencies, on screen?

“I really hope not,” says Featherstone. “If there is a single person who doesn’t think the NHS is underfunded and under stress, they are living in a different world. We all also know we bloody love it, we all want to support it and it’s about how you do that and support it.”

“This Is Going to Hurt” premieres on the BBC on Feb. 8 and will follow on AMC.