The Case: is daytime TV ready for assisted suicide?

Daytime drama starring Dean Andrews and Tristan Gemmill tackles morality at its murkiest

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Not many people would consider the BBC’s decision to schedule The Case, a legal drama revolving around assisted suicide, as a natural fit among the quiz shows and cooking competitions of daytime television. But writer David Allison didn’t set out to produce a topical drama about euthanasia.

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“I didn’t ask myself, ‘What’s the most contentious issue I can imagine?’ but rather, ‘What’s a morally complex story anyone can watch and wonder what they’d do if they found themselves in that situation?’”

There’s no doubting Allison’s sincerity, though the issue of assisted suicide is, of course, hugely contentious and morally complex. That’s why dramas as diverse as A Short Stay in Switzerland, Nurse Jackie, Emmerdale and Casualty have all addressed the issue in recent years, while back in 2000 in EastEnders, a terminally ill Ethel asked Dot to help her to die. (Ethel’s passing, watched by more than 16 million viewers, was voted by RT readers the all-time most emotional soap death.)

Inevitably, some may (unfairly) read The Case as a tacit endorsement of assisted suicide. But assisted suicide is more the fulcrum than the focus of the drama, which is as interesting for the way it tells its story as for the trial at its heart. Stripped across the week, it follows the template set in primetime by the likes of BBC1’s Five Days and ITV1’s Collision and in daytime by BBC1’s The Indian Doctor.

“We decided that we wanted to do a ‘360 degree’ drama about one case,” explains Allison, who also wrote ITV1’s Boy Meets Girl and Sky Living’s Bedlam. “So The Case isn’t just about what happens in the courtroom, it’s about the victim’s family, the defendant’s own story, and the barristers’ chambers and their lives. And because you get to spend five whole episodes with these characters, you have the time to really get to know their world.”

This “360 degree” storytelling is akin to the likes of Prime Suspect and The Killing and it’s surely one of the reasons The Case attracted a high-calibre cast. Not just Ashes to Ashes’ Dean Andrews as the accused, Tony, but also Chanel Cresswell from Trollied and This Is England 86, and Casualty alumnus Tristan Gemmill, who plays Tony’s barrister, Sol.

“I had initial reservations about how you tackle such an emotive, delicate and topical issue in daytime,” Gemmill says, “but what David has done is walk through the minefield and create some fascinating, strong characters. Seeing the case from multiple angles really emphasises how the ripples affect everyone involved. It was great to play a complicated character who doesn’t necessarily believe in the innocence of his client, but is resolved to defend him nevertheless.”

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Gemmill’s relish for The Case will, Allison must hope, be shared by the audience. It may “just” be a daytime drama, but The Case, with its boldness, ambition and 360-degree storytelling, is undoubtedly a well-rounded offering.