This show, which first aired on BBC in 1995, is set in late 1890s London. Unlike most period dramas you’ve seen, there is little time spent on drinking tea and worrying about marriage, b/c the title character is a female doctor. She is Dr. Eleanor Bramwell (Jemma Redgrave: daughter of Corin and niece of Vannessa and Lynn)- mid-20s, outspoken, and ambitious. After her mother died in childbirth, she was raised by her doctor father, Robert (David Calder), who runs his private practice out of their townhouse. But in another life, he was an army surgeon.
It’s Eleanor’s dream to become a surgeon, though she barely gets to assist at East End Hospital where she works (in the 1st ep). Most of the other doctors (male, of course) either ignore or laugh at her. Her supervisor, an elderly and pompous surgeon, Sir Herbert (Robert Hardy), thinks that Eleanor should quit medicine, act more ladylike, and find a husband. Her only ally is Dr. Joe Marsham, an anesthetist who comes from the North and was raised working-class. He has the wrong accent and manners in the eyes of the other docs. Dr. Marhsham also wants to perform surgery, but never gets a chance.
Eleanor becomes more and more disillusioned w/ her work at East End. Her father worries that she’s “becoming too hard” and offers her a partnership w/ him. One day, Sir Herbert unnecessarily performs surgery on a young mother (who probably had post-partum depression). The woman dies on the operating table, but the male docs don’t seem to care. Eleanor is horrified and angered. (There is blood, but don’t let a a little squemishness stop you from watching this excellent show!)
Eleanor finds another (unlikely) ally in Lady Cora Peters, a wealthy widow who is planning to set up a small infirmary w/ the legacy (money) of her late husband. While visiting Sir Herbert at the hospital, Lady Peters is impressed by Eleanor’s determination to save a patient’s leg. She offers the running of her infirmary (The Thrift) to the young woman.
Though Eleanor is a tough cookie, she has a lot to learn when she opens up The Thrift. The patients are very poor, dirty, malnourished, and often drunk. A few are violent towards each other and the staff. In one intense scene in the 2nd ep, a patient threatens Eleanor w/ a broken bottle. In another ep, a soldier w/ a brain injury attacks her late at night. (Being a doctor is a risk to her reputation and safety.)
Besides being gritty, realistic, and very well-written, Bramwell is an educational show. (You’ll see how far we’ve come w/ medical advancements!) The father-daughter relationship is very prominent and touching. When Eleanor pours herself a whisky after a hard day, her father is a bit shocked. In one episode, he fixes her up w/ one of his younger army buddies. They respect each other as professionals and speak plainly w/ each other.