DEFINITION April 2022 - Newsletter


This Is Going To Hurt DOP Benedict Spence uncovers how he employed controlled naturalism to mirror the imperfect state of the NHS – and represent the exhaustion of its workers Chaos and control

WORDS. Emily Williamson

A n open-mouthed, snoring Adam Kay awakes to the incessant buzz of his archaic sliding phone. He’s in his car, late for his shift. He didn’t even make it home last night. The cold open of BBC One’s This Is Going To Hurt presents us with the central image of the narrative – an exhausted junior doctor. We follow Adam (Ben Whishaw) to work in obs and gynae, with Shruti (Ambika Mod) in tow under his tutelage. Their work is scary, serious, surreal and – for those who work in the NHS – an eerily real picture of what thousands of hospital staff endure day after day. The series is based on the book of the same name, which creator Adam Kay wrote based on his real experiences as a doctor. Although it is set in a period from 2004 to 2010, the series’ proximity to the pandemic only makes the story more relevant – and its message more pertinent. DOP Benedict Spence recounts his experience: “We shot it in the middle of the second lockdown, and had three

medical advisers that would come on-set after a night shift saving babies. They were incredible. After everything that happened, it felt right to tell the story of NHS workers.” LIGHTING THE NARRATIVE It was important to represent the story and its real-life source material accurately, but also create a visually appealing series, Spence explains. He and Lucy Forbes, director of episodes 1 to 4, have worked together frequently for roughly 15 years, on projects such as The End of the F**king World Season 2 and In My Skin . The pair used an approach he describes as ‘controlled naturalism’ on the latter project, which they decided would also be appropriate for This Is Going To Hurt . The aim was an imperfect and broken style – like real life – with elements of control that would make the visuals more cinematic and balanced. “It’s not a documentary look, but we wanted something that felt immediate and genuine,” Spence recalls. “The frames aren’t entirely perfect. The lighting isn’t always clean. There’s mess. In a way, it mirrors the current state of the NHS, and that makes it come across more real and believable. It brings the audience closer to the characters.” Unsurprisingly, the majority of the series takes place in the hospital, and its lighting exemplifies the stated ethos impeccably. Many will undoubtedly have experienced the harsh, flat, overhead fluorescent beams of a medical setting. It’s distinct and unmistakable, but doesn’t allow for the kind of flexibility a filmmaker needs to create an appealing, interesting visual. The dilemma becomes how to represent the sober reality of lighting, while having the control necessary to do his work as a DOP. “In

TRUE TO LIFE Although not quite shot in a fly-on-the-wall, documentary style, the series emphasises naturalism, depicting the plight of the NHS as it really is


Powered by