19/12/2013 06:21 GMT | Updated 17/02/2014 05:59 GMT

Drama To Leave You 'Breathless'

Paul Unwin may not be a household name, but in TV terms he's a serious mover and shaker as one of the brains behind British TV's longest running medical saga, Casualty

I spoke to the amiable writer, director and photographer about his recent project, ITV's period medical drama Breathless, the Sixties-set saga bursting with style, scandal and colour. 


Breathless out now on DVD 

ITV Studios Global Entertainment

My first thought before seeing Breathless was 'Not another 'stethosoap', but there's a lot more to it than that 

"It's so not a stethosoap", laughs Paul.


Paul Unwin

"I always wanted to write something about the relationship between men and women in the early Sixties, before the pill and before abortion was legalised; before homosexuality was legalised, and it just struck me as being a really dramatic period. And the way in was through medicine, not because I wanted to do another medical drama. But It seemed to me a very good staging place to do it."


Breathless out now on DVD 

ITV Studios Global Entertainment

There have been a lot of comparisons between Breathless and Mad Men, but I like the fact one of your key inspirations was the Julianne Moore film Far From Heaven.

"To be honest, Far From Heaven was both a kind of visual inspiration but also the concept, the idea of doing something where the exterior sheen covered up all kinds of stuff going on below the surface."

Compared to all the gloomy dramas out there, It's good to see a full colour drama where HD is pushed to its limits

"We had a fantastic team on it as well. When we got the team together, I said, 'This has got to look bright and open and delicious and colourful'. People were saying, 'Really?' 

Because period (drama) has a tendency to be desaturated colours... Have you seen that thing where they re-colour war films? I was trying to get that, so it had a bite and a clarity to it. So that you didn't think that this was some distant world, but it was a world I wanted to get into and follow these people and their problems."


Breathless out now on DVD 

ITV Studios Global Entertainment

Every great medical drama needs a doc with a God complex, and Jack Davenport does a great job. Is he really as good as he seems?

"Actually he is that brilliant, and is one of those actors who is a joy to work with. 

He does know what he's doing. He is extremely experienced, but is extraordinarily friendly and responsive. There's no airs and graces. He is just focused; he's very funny; he's very generous with his energy. He just kept up an energy on what were big old days; for 11 and a half hours.

It's interesting, he doesn't work much in Britain really at all now. I went to New York to meet him as we were casting him, and he had your reaction when he first read the script. He said, 'The last thing I want to do is a medical drama', and then suddenly got into the story I was trying to tell. Those people's lives and the back story to them, and how they all wove into the present. It was just fantastic to have him along side."


Breathless out now on DVD 

ITV Studios Global Entertainment

What was the most memorable day of the shoot?

"There was a great moment... I hadn't actually finished the writing when we were shooting, and when I finally delivered the last episode, no one knew what I was going to do.

If you haven't seen it, it surprises people. Jack came up to me and said: "Oh my God, this is so thrilling!"

He and one of the other actresses had been in the car being taken to set, going over what the options of what I could do were, and the one they hadn't thought of was the one I did."


Breathless out now on DVD 

ITV Studios Global Entertainment

Our viewing habits have changed a lot since the days when Casualty started in 1986. When you create a drama like Breathless, do you think more in terms of a four-hour film compared to six separate 45 minute episodes?

Even two years ago people were feeling very episodic. I've been carrying the torch for what I call 'long form stories', and every episode has got to be satisfying, but I've certainly been pitching and working on... the thing I'm going on to do next is a long form story, and that is just now being welcomed by people.

There are whims and changes, but people are now viewing TV in a different way; they can catch up with stuff and join series and then continue watching them. What I call 'DVD kind of viewing' is becoming more popular.

ITV drama seems to be going through a renaissance at the moment. Do you think that's because the likes of HBO and Showtime raised the bar so ITV had to follow suit?

I do. It's a very interesting industry to work in, because on the one hand there is this international explosion, which we British are a big part in, in terms of how ambitious TV is becoming.

On the other side there is a very important domestic market to play to, and I'm not necessarily saying that they are always such different things, but they are quite different things. Juggling those two is making (TV) a really interesting place.

I can't speak warmly enough about ITV because they are very ambitious and under Peter Fincham's 'regime', they are going "We want to make really interesting and different drama."


Breathless out now on DVD 

ITV Studios Global Entertainment