Sadly Bramwell Series 3 and 4 Go Downhill Fast
by Kristin Battestella
Doctor Eleanor Bramwell (Jemma Redgrave) continues to run the Thrift Street Infirmary with anesthetist Joseph Marsham (Kevin McMonagle) in the uneven 1997 ten episode Season Three of Bramwell. Despite personal tragedies and household upheavals, Doctor Robert Bramwell (David Calder) courts the wealthy Alice Costigan (Maureen Beattie), leaving Eleanor free for more romance as the series whimpers on with two faulty feature length episodes in Year Four.
Already Bramwell is off on the wrong foot with “The Overnight Stay” as drunkards and burning accidents at the local brewery begat pain, shouting, hysterical mothers, and emergency hectic. If one didn't see the previous series, you wouldn't know what's happening, and all the screaming, poisoned patients, and alcoholism heavy handedness are forgotten once the romance returns for our eponymous lady doctor. The statements and forced melodrama remain uneven as the rekindled but over the top sappy drags on at the expense of everything else. Although it's immediately clear that ten hours is entirely too long a season, the second episode is much stronger and Bramwell improves greatly when focusing on the ensemble's personal and professional drama instead of this contrived, dead end love affair. Spending time without Eleanor in Episode Five ironically makes the show better, and it makes the audience wonder if she could have been written off or replaced as Year Three continues to fall apart with “The Beaten Wife.” Festive jubilee preparations contrast the downtrodden streets and shanty town house calls, however the severe split skulls and abusive bloody are cut short when the doctor once again ditches The Thrift for her boyfriend. Paralleling a truly terrible situation with her la dee da and the perceived problems of her subsequent break up is an embarrassing juxtaposition. Bramwell remembers it's medical premise with goiters, boils, infected abscesses, and dubious diagnosis in “The Faith Healer,” but patients are turning to religious healers and what the doctors call mumbo jumbo. Everyone is shouting, irrational, and angry at the perceived backward superstition against science. Sick patients who really need a doctor are walking out of the clinic, but Bramwell doesn't handle multiple medical issues per episode for most of this season, and the religious healing versus fatal fire and brimstone quackery never makes a stand either way in an aimless entry indicative of the season's unnecessary pains.
Jemma Redgrave's Doctor Eleanor Bramwell shouts at her staff and talks back to her father over her latest high horse cause, yet she's the one who isn't seeing to her patients because she's too busy getting some steamy. Our intelligent, hard working woman is once again ready to dump The Thrift for her marriage plans. Eleanor's angry at everyone else, but when she says another is strong in medicine but weak and foolish in the heart, we know she's talking about herself. The character shines much, much more as a woman and a doctor in a time ruled by men when only she is able to comfort an ill mother with a feminine gravitas. However, Bramwell spends most of its time with Eleanor moping, embarrassing herself in public, and threatening to close her clinic because a man didn't rescue her from being a spinster doctor. She runs away to stay with a friend for “The Mercenary Expecting,” but Eleanor isn't happy with any country idyllic or matchmaking and yells at the maid. Her friends are so, so tired of it, but she picks a fight with the local school and sick townsfolk, critical of lesser conditions and telling teachers how to handle ignorance and neglect. She accuses everyone high or low of being so smug, wrapping a situation that should be handled with forgiveness, food, and rest in a terribly uncomfortable attitude and over the top whining. Bramwell regresses its independent woman with nothing but mistakes, turning her into a bitter biddy who takes over The Thrift again only when it suits her – and when the clinic seemed to do better without her complaining. Eleanor calls her father selfish when he invests in his own practice rather than Thrift Street, and he counters that she needs to consider how other people have dreams and professional ambition beyond her little world. She also says it is for the best when things fall apart for him, which is totally rude, and it is obvious she's jealous of him getting remarried before she is wed. Bramwell becomes even more tone deaf when Eleanor says she's tired of reminding all the bleeding hearts around her of who they are and what they do, but she quickly realizes she is the one backed into a corner and dependent upon the nearest man. She even suggests she and Marsham marry because of how convenient it would be for her – out of her father's house and near East End with her own money – never considering his feelings for her when she steps out with yet another louse instead. Eleanor insists she is calm, able to deal, and not some silly girl, but we have seen every evidence to the contrary, and the character is completely unlikable by the end of the season.
A newfound courting of a wealthy widow, however, has David Calder's Doctor Robert Bramwell recapturing his youthful adventurousness. Naturally, Eleanor's stubbornness and petty disapproval embarrasses him, and he rightfully tells her to catch some manners before giving her her mother's jewelry when she plots her ill-advised engagement. Robert still wants to be there and comfort her, but he's having his own awkwardness in “The Entrenched Rival” thanks to pompous competition and high society formalities when he's visiting his lady's country house. Robert doubts his walks in the moonlight will do, but he realizes it's worth vying for the lady. Ironically, dad does the courting right when his daughter falls for all the wrongs – it's almost as if he should be Bramwell's lead. Robert also does a risky surgery on an infant while Eleanor supports him, and he confesses how he lost his wife during an operation he performed on her. He takes new offices at a well to do address in “The Change of Life” and intends to ask Alice to marry him, but an infatuated young lady patient is making excuses with pains in delicate places. Robert remains professional, focusing on his charming proposal instead of the increasingly delusional hypochondriac. Who knew accusations, fanatical patients, and gunshots were exactly what Bramwell needed? Wedding announcements are in the newspaper by “The Short Chapter,” and Robert's laughing like he's twenty as The Thrift goes all out with a humble little party and sentimental gifts. Dad still worries about Eleanor in East End alone and wants her in the country with them, and Maureen Beattie as widowed brewery heiress Alice Costigan asks Eleanor to be her bridesmaid. She's a strong business woman supporting The Thrift, sticking to the rules without being cruel and helping her injured workers. Alice enjoys Robert's company and invites his simpler tastes into her world despite some haughty medical arguments – she is perhaps set in her ways and chooses the more eminent opinion instead of what's best for the patient. Alice gets knocked down from her social grandstanding, but admits when she is wrong, bringing Eleanor frocks and trying to suggest suitors or more help at the clinic. She's proud of Robert's work and happy to marry him but wishes he'd confide in her without worrying about money, status, or impressing anybody. She prefers mutual trust to doctor confidentiality and offers her finances to save his partnership in a tender, progressive equality again done better than her step-daughter's romances.
Kevin McMonagle's Doctor Joe Marsham remains the voice of reason on Bramwell despite saying he is rarely sober. He never seems to leave the clinic yet talks of taking a promotion with a real salary elsewhere. His wife, unfortunately, becomes ill in “The Diagnosis” and uses a fake name to see Eleanor by appointment. She has had miscarriages and they lost a child, but now there is swelling in her breast and she can't tell her husband. Marsham is angry his wife doesn't confide in him personally or professionally over such a serious illness, and the story balances the husband being unable to handle the severity and the timid woman in pain seen more as a specimen by an elitist specialist. Their choices for healthcare are impeded by his Scottish accent and cheap suit, and the entire Marsham family moves in with the Bramwells during the grim diagnosis for one of the series' finer episodes as the emotional ensemble shines amid grief, time wasted, and loneliness. Andrew Connolly, however, returns as Doctor Finn O'Neill in the Series Three premiere, still wooing Eleanor between lecture stops – dropping by to ruin her rep and she falls for it every time! Though ambitious, he wants assurance of her love before sounding like an abuser with excuses on why it is Eleanor's fault he returns from America with another bride. Everyone sees Finn coming – how can we believe he really loves Eleanor when all he's ever done is wrong her? It's a chore to watch “The Vaccination Experiment” late in the season when these same old moon eyes embarrass the Bramwells amidst would be provocative medical committees debating influenza and vaccinations. Eleanor justifies his work, too – dismissing his wife's ill health, letting the girl faint, and mistreating her out of romantic spite. Finn insists Eleanor knows he wouldn't experiment on people...but that's how they met!
She's terribly embarrassed by suggestive drunken ravings but Ruth Sheen's Nurse Carr sticks up for Eleanor against Finn's crap and isn't afraid to tell off a patient's abusive husband. Although a wonderful dancer tiring out all the men, she can still be found working in The Thrift at three in the morning and comes when the Bramwells call at home. She remains forgiving despite her priggish gruff, but when she tells the doctors she can't be in two places at once, they yell. Everyone's entitled to a bad day except her! Sadly Ethel's mother has begun wandering and stealing in “The Medical Hopeful” and both stubborn ladies refuse help even if Nurse Carr can't take care of her mother alone and won't think of putting her in an asylum. She steals opium from the clinic, spooning it to her mother to keep her calm before escalating to more upsetting elder abuse. The difficulties here are nobody's fault and that's the saddest part, but it's frustrating that the supporting tenderness is torn with severe personal troubles while the titular star has a sappy romance. Ben Brazier as young porter Sidney Bentley is barely there but for a quip or wisdom from the adults. He stands up for Nurse Carr when she teaches him to dance and says he's sorry for the way Finn treats Eleanor and he'd propose if he could. Keeley Gainey's maid Kate is also used for passing along exposition, an absent-minded girl sneaking out for stolen kisses and trying to use a typewriter. Thankfully, she stands up for herself against the jerks and accepts that she has no secretarial skills – humming, reciting poetry, and off to jubilee parties while remaining much needed kindly support.
Bramwell has plenty of turn of the century Victorian bustle with all the balloon sleeves, bonnets, feathers, and frocks needed for proper British formality. Bicycles, carriages, fancy manors, and period clutter set off the candles, crystal, cameos, pearls, and newfangled electric lights while medical gruesome, surgery knives, and blood provide gritty. Our faithful must make their jubilee flags themselves, but they play instruments, sing, and dance to make their own music, too. Be it funeral decorum or church wedding, the Gibson Girl hats and big plumes are ready – leaving the gowns and shining gems reserved for the evening parties amid marble ballrooms, fine china, and English gardens. Rain and blue lighting accent scandalous rendezvous, and overhead shots or point of view editing mirror emergencies with vintage microscopes, period medical equipment, big needles, and huge IV tubes. Bramwell shows the bloody burns and sores upon the breast in bitter contrast to the often quaint atmosphere. However, every time there is a hysterical shock, foul insult, or any kind of upset, ever – someone always inevitably suggests they have a cup of tea! Of course, stateside we would have called Bramwell canceled after Season Three and named the two 100 minute episodes following it television movie specials rather than a Series Four. New credits, military drums, black and white archive footage, absent characters – you would have no idea “The Brave Boys” is supposed to be about a lady doctor if you started here with redcoats and muckrakers shouting in the streets. The always delightful but barely there Jenny Agutter (Logan's Run) is shoehorned in amid busy back and forth editing trying to set the wartime scene, hectic camerawork, and poor outdoor cinematography. It's Eleanor Takes on the Army as sergeants object to her being a recruit doctor. Marsham says he isn't being paid by Her Majesty's Service, so he just lets his future wife do the grab and cough on all these ready and waiting bare butt soldiers instead? There is no sign of romantic affection between the colleagues, and if Robert Bramwell objected to his daughter being called a cunt by patients on Thrift Street, I wonder what he thinks of her military cajoling? Useless scenes and annoying music add to the confusion for anyone unfamiliar with the Boer Wars and Dutch prejudice, leaving characters to take surprisingly racist turns. Nobody's on the same side, and instead of tying up the loose ends from Year Three, this episode throws enemy patients and friendly barracks into the messy mix. Once again, Eleanor drops everything for a Major she doesn't even really like who gets her hot and bothered, because as independent as she claims to be, all the men are still telling her what to do. Apparently there's some kind of marriage and pregnancy scandal in the second feature “The Loose Women,” but I just can't go on anymore.
Bramwell shoots itself in the foot with squandered time on round and round romantic melodrama. Despite stronger stories yet to be told with other characters, plenty of period toils, and more medical possibilities, the series looses its way amid both too many episodes and bizarre format changes. There is still some fine Victorian drama from the tormented ensemble, but unfortunately Bramwell is best left after the Second Season thanks to an increasing unlikability untrue to its original premise.