6 November 2004 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
Just what the doctor ordered
'Maybury' is a splendid example of the sort of television drama that British production companies do so very well, and which American production companies always do badly. The setting for this series is the psychiatric unit of Maybury General Hospital, and accordingly the central theme is the treatment of mental illness. This is exactly the sort of subject which Yank television shows can never depict honestly. In most American medical dramas, it goes like this: a patient suffering from chronic mental illness has a sudden epiphany about some childhood incident, and is miraculously cured in a single one-hour episode, with time left over for commercials and an emotional monologue by the kindly doctor. It doesn't help that the mental illnesses depicted in American TV dramas tend to be contrived and implausible. I saw one recently about a mental patient who thought he was Superman, and had to be constantly prevented from flying out the window. (I know a quick way to cure this guy: put him in a ward on the upper storey, and leave the window open.)
Refreshingly and intelligently, 'Maybury' consistently shows that recovery from mental illness is a life-long struggle, and the series emphasises this by placing the patients in multi-episode story arcs. Also, it helps that the patients in this series have plausible and realistic mental illnesses. We meet, for example, an Irishwoman named Maisie (Pauline Delaney): a recluse who allows her house to fall into disrepair while she creates bizarre oil paintings and acquires a large contingent of stray animals. Is Maisie a nutter, or merely an eccentric? Also admitted to Maybury is housewife Julia, played by the beautiful Suzanne Bertish. Julia is an agoraphobe, terrified of leaving her home. Another patient is Alice (Sylvestra Le Touzel), a mysterious woman who wears a scarf over her face and gives conflicting accounts of her past. The most frightening case on offer here (and a chillingly plausible one) is that of Larry Chalmers (Norman Eshley), who can see his own mirror-image spying on him.
At the centre of the bedlam is Dr Edward Roebuck. Actor Patrick Stewart gives a stand-out performance in this role, projecting authority and intelligence. I expect that audience interest in the 'X-Men' and 'Star Trek' films will prompt some viewers to seek out 'Maybury' purely on the basis of Stewart's presence in the lead role. Anything that gets viewers to watch 'Maybury' is fine with me. This excellent series is consistently well-scripted, with a fine cast, and I'll rate 'Maybury' 9 out of 10.