A Surgeon A Cut Above Her Time: Jemma Redgrave is Dr. Eleanor Bramwell



How much dogged determination, off-the-charts intelligence and unwavering motivation would it have taken to become a leading female surgeon in the Victorian era of corsets and curtsies? Dr. Eleanor Bramwell is going to show us how to pierce the glass ceiling with a well-aimed scalpel as VisionTV brings you our premiere presentation of the acclaimed ITV series, Bramwell, Thursdays at 10pm ET from Nov. 18, 2021 through May 19, 2022.

Set in 1895, Bramwell follows the brilliant, kind, driven and innovative Eleanor Bramwell who has a bold idea. She’s intent on becoming a surgeon in a world that believes a woman’s place is in the home. Despite the sexism of the time, Eleanor secures a place assisting in surgery at an East London Hospital, thanks to her physician father calling in a favour. Eleanor’s close relationship with her single father Robert Bramwell (David Calder), a quite liberal man who supports his daughter’s ambition but at times disapproves of her choices, is one of the central relationships at the very heart of the series.

Eleanor Bramwell is played by Jemma Redgrave, a member of the storied Redgrave family of four generations of actors, writers and directors. She is the granddaughter of Academy Award nominee, Sir Michael Redgrave, the daughter of actor Corin Redgrave and niece to actresses Vanessa Redgrave and the late Lynn Redgrave, Joely Richardson and the late Natasha Richardson.

“I first heard about Bramwell when my agent rang me to tell me that I have an interview for a series about a doctor in 1895,” said Redgrave when the series first premiered in 1995. “I said great, am I up for his girlfriend? I was totally taken aback when she told me the central character was a woman and from that moment I was really keen on getting the role.”

“It’s an opportunity for me to drive the train rather than sit in the carriage. I love wearing the breeches and driving the piece.”

As much as the series is anchored by richly developed characters and the interpersonal drama of Eleanor navigating life as a young female doctor, nitty-gritty takes on the serious cases Dr. Bramwell deals with also provide a fascinating look into life at the time, along with the realistic drama that comes from life or death medical care.

“At the time Bramwell is set, there was a handful of women trying to establish themselves as doctors in London, and none were given an easy ride,” said producers Tim Whitby and Harriet Davison. “But for those few women and the rest of the medical fraternity, it was considered the golden age of surgery with antisepsis, x-ray and anaesthetic being developed. But many of these were slow to be adopted. Surgeons were still operating in unhygienic, blood-stiffened aprons on semi-conscious terrified patients and even the most minor operations were often fatal.”

What makes Eleanor a remarkable doctor for the time is her unflinching ability to question her superiors on what she believes is best for her patients. From the very first episode, Dr. Bramwell makes enemies at the hospital, particularly head surgeon Sir Herbert Hamilton (Robert Hardy), when she argues that his decision to remove a patient’s ovaries is far too hasty and barbaric.

Throughout the series, Eleanor continues to push her colleagues and herself to provide the best medical care possible at a time when advancements in the field are sorely needed. Viewers will  find themselves cheering her on every step of the way.

“Eleanor is quite a complex character and you’re  never quite sure how she’s going to react to any situation,” said Redgrave. “She is fantastically determined, headstrong and opinionated with lots of drive – especially as far as men are concerned.”

Enjoy Bramwell, Seasons 1 through 4, Thursdays at 10pm ET from November 18, 2021 through May 19, 2022 on VisionTV.

– Tessa Giftopoulos | Henry Lees

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