Sheridan Smith struggles to look after her seriously ill mother in BBC1’s Care

This one-off drama starring Sheridan Smith opens with a bang – literally.

Mary (Alison Steadman) is driving her granddaughters home from the chippy when she has a stroke at the wheel. Her car careers out of control and straight into a skip, and Mary’s daughter Jenny, played by Sheridan, rushes to the scene with her heart in her mouth.

‘Gosh, I’m getting all panicky just thinking about it!’ says an emotional Sheridan as she recalls filming the scene. ‘I was really shaking, and I was crying a lot. On set it looked so real, with the girls and the smoke from the accident. I really enjoyed the drama and adrenalin of it.’

After her stroke and the dramatic crash, Mary is left in a wheelchair and develops dementia, which means she needs 24-hour care.

Sheridan Smith struggles to look after her seriously ill mother in BBC1's Care

Mary has had a serious stroke
(Image: BBC/LA Productions/Tony Blake)

Jenny puts her mum in underfunded nursing homes. But after realising she’s being neglected, and at her wits’ end, she takes her into her own home.

There, though, as Mary becomes more and more confused, Jenny struggles

to handle her, and their relationship becomes almost unbearable.

Making a drama out of the crisis

Set in Liverpool, Care tackles issue of the funding crisis in health services, and also stars Little Boy Blue’s Sinead Keenan as Jenny’s sister, Claire.

Sheridan Smith struggles to look after her seriously ill mother in BBC1's Care

Sisters Claire (Sinead Keenan) and Jenny
(Image: BBC/LA Productions/Tony Blake)

It was co-written by Jimmy McGovern, the firebrand screenwriter who created Cracker and Moving On – and the reason Sheridan signed up for the role of Jenny. ‘I’m a big fan of Jimmy,’ she says. ‘I worked with him years ago on The Accused. When Jimmy got in touch and said he was working on this script I was very excited. I jumped at the chance.’ For research, Sheridan spoke to friends whose parents or grandparents had dementia. ‘It taught me about a lot,’ she says. ‘And Alison was hugely helpful. She had done a lot of research so a lot of the time I am reacting to her performance.’

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Not surprisingly, the co-stars bonded. ‘We had a lot of emotional scenes that were very taxing,’ says Alison. ‘When we finished a take, if it had gone well, Sheridan would grip my hand.

She wouldn’t say anything, but it was great to have that support. We felt we were really communicating together.’

‘It was tough to play gran’

Sheridan Smith struggles to look after her seriously ill mother in BBC1's Care

Mary before her stroke
(Image: BBC/LA Productions/Tony Blake)

Care is very different to another show Sheridan and Alison worked on together – hit comedy Gavin & Stacey. (Sheridan played Rudi, the little sister of James Corden’s Smithy). And while Alison has tackled a wide range of roles in her career, she found it tough to play Mary – transforming herself from a young-at-heart gran into a partially paralysed stroke victim. ‘But I didn’t have any reservations – I knew it would be a terrific challenge,’ she says.

‘I knew it would be something I was going to really have to work at to get into Mary’s brain and understand what she was going through.’

Horror of a stroke is sudden and shocking

Alison has seen first-hand the situation Mary and her family face because one of her friends suffered a massive stroke six months ago. ‘It’s so hard to see how it can change someone’s life entirely,’ she says. ‘In the stroke unit I chatted to quite a few of the patients or just exchanged smiles – I saw what was going on.’

At the very least, watching Care will remind everyone how life can change irrevocably at the drop of a hat. ‘It really makes me appreciate that, at the end of the day, I can get dressed, put my lipstick on and go and have a gin and tonic,’ adds Alison. ‘Some people aren’t so lucky.’

Care is on Sun 9pm BBC1