BAZ BAMIGBOYE: How British star Florence Pugh is telling incredible story of the angel in a mask 

Oscar-nominated star Florence Pugh ‘dropped everything’ to narrate a hard-hitting BBC documentary about medical staff at an Italian hospital battling to save lives in the early days of the pandemic.

‘I can barely cry,’ says Dr Francesca Mangiatordi, her haunted face staring into a laptop at the Cremona Hospital in Lombardy, Northern Italy.

Documentarian Sasha Joelle Achilli made her way alone, from London to her homeland, where she wasn’t allowed to visit her parents or her sister because of lockdown. 

¿I can barely cry,¿ says Dr Francesca Mangiatordi, her haunted face staring into a laptop at the Cremona Hospital in Lombardy, Northern Italy

¿I can barely cry,¿ says Dr Francesca Mangiatordi, her haunted face staring into a laptop at the Cremona Hospital in Lombardy, Northern Italy

‘I can barely cry,’ says Dr Francesca Mangiatordi, her haunted face staring into a laptop at the Cremona Hospital in Lombardy, Northern Italy

Oscar-nominated star Florence Pugh ¿dropped everything¿ to narrate a hard-hitting BBC documentary about medical staff at an Italian hospital

Oscar-nominated star Florence Pugh ¿dropped everything¿ to narrate a hard-hitting BBC documentary about medical staff at an Italian hospital

She provided narration for a documentary about Italian medics battling to save lives in the early days of the pandemic

She provided narration for a documentary about Italian medics battling to save lives in the early days of the pandemic

Oscar-nominated star Florence Pugh ‘dropped everything’ to narrate a hard-hitting BBC documentary about medical staff at an Italian hospital

Documentarian Sasha Joelle Achilli made her way alone, from London to her homeland, where she wasn¿t allowed to visit her parents or her sister because of lockdown

Documentarian Sasha Joelle Achilli made her way alone, from London to her homeland, where she wasn¿t allowed to visit her parents or her sister because of lockdown

Documentarian Sasha Joelle Achilli made her way alone, from London to her homeland, where she wasn’t allowed to visit her parents or her sister because of lockdown

She had arranged to film Dr Mangiatordi for a few days, but instead remained for three weeks as the entire hospital was turned over to Covid-19 cases.

The powerful film, Italy’s Frontline: A Doctor’s Diary, will be shown on BBC2 and iPlayer on June 29.

The dialogue is in Italian with English subtitles. But Achilli and her executive producer Dan Edge felt it required narration for its UK broadcast.

So they set their sights on Pugh, who has appeared in several films including Little Women (for which she received an Academy Award nod for best supporting actress) because ‘she has a beautiful voice: warm, young’, Achilli said. 

They sent the actress a long, rough-cut version of the feature and received a swift response from her agent. 

‘She said Florence would do it, no questions asked,’ Achilli told me. ‘She dropped everything.’

Achilli had arranged to film Dr Mangiatordi for a few days, but instead remained for three weeks as the entire hospital was turned over to Covid-19 cases

Achilli had arranged to film Dr Mangiatordi for a few days, but instead remained for three weeks as the entire hospital was turned over to Covid-19 cases

Achilli had arranged to film Dr Mangiatordi for a few days, but instead remained for three weeks as the entire hospital was turned over to Covid-19 cases

The dialogue is in Italian with English subtitles but Achilli and her executive producer Dan Edge felt it required narration for its UK broadcast

The dialogue is in Italian with English subtitles but Achilli and her executive producer Dan Edge felt it required narration for its UK broadcast

The dialogue is in Italian with English subtitles but Achilli and her executive producer Dan Edge felt it required narration for its UK broadcast

So they set their sights on Pugh, who has appeared in several films including Little Women

So they set their sights on Pugh, who has appeared in several films including Little Women

So they set their sights on Pugh, who has appeared in several films including Little Women

Pugh has been staying in Los Angeles where she has a studio, in which she’s been recording vocal tracks for audio books and online theatre.

She sent an audio test to Achilli and Edge for the narrator’s role. ‘We connected on Skype and we directed her,’ Achilli said. 

There’s something about Pugh that matches the passion and strength displayed by Dr Mangiatordi in the film.

The doctor’s teenage son likens his mother to a movie superhero, in her fight against the virus. Interestingly, most of the protagonists in the documentary are women.

Achilli, who donned as much protective gear as they did, grew close to the healthcare workers during flming. ‘Women are women, and we talked a lot, openly, about everything,’ she said.

There¿s something about Pugh that matches the passion and strength displayed by Dr Mangiatordi in the film

There¿s something about Pugh that matches the passion and strength displayed by Dr Mangiatordi in the film

There’s something about Pugh that matches the passion and strength displayed by Dr Mangiatordi in the film

Pugh sent an audio test to Achilli and Edge for the narrator¿s role. ¿We connected on Skype and we directed her,¿ Achilli said.

Pugh sent an audio test to Achilli and Edge for the narrator¿s role. ¿We connected on Skype and we directed her,¿ Achilli said.

Pugh sent an audio test to Achilli and Edge for the narrator’s role. ‘We connected on Skype and we directed her,’ Achilli said.

That sense of camaraderie helped her gain access to some incredible scenes in the hospital. 

She was there when 18-year-old Mattia was admitted, one of the youngest Italians to be infected. His strand of the story is one of the most heart-stopping aspects of the documentary.

When Achilli finally returned to London, she spent two days just ‘sleeping and crying’. 

But she stays in touch with the doctors and nurses in Cremona via WhatsApp. ‘They say: “You were in the trenches with us.” But I just turned on a camera,’ says Achilli. ‘They did the rest.’

Bennett bunch boost for NHS  

Alan Bennett and the cast and main creative team involved with his sublime new Talking Heads series have donated their fees — totalling more than £1 million — to a fund for NHS staff and volunteers.

Thirty individuals including the 12-strong cast who deliver the revealing monologues — Jodie Comer, Monica Dolan, Martin Freeman, Tamsin Greig, Sarah Lancashire, Lesley Manville, Lucian Msamati, Maxine Peake, Rochenda Sandall, Kristin Scott Thomas, Imelda Staunton, and Harriet Walter — agreed to waive payment for their work on what Bennett calls his ‘stripped down versions of short stories’. Instead, the money will go to NHS Charities Together.

In a statement Bennett, who for decades has mined golden prose from his visits (and admissions) to hospitals, said: ‘I have many reasons to be thankful to the NHS, some of them sillier than others.

Among the 12-strong cast who deliver the revealing monologues is Lucian Msamati

Among the 12-strong cast who deliver the revealing monologues is Lucian Msamati

Among the 12-strong cast who deliver the revealing monologues is Lucian Msamati

The cast, including actress Jodie Comer, agreed to waive payment for their work on what Bennett calls his ¿stripped down versions of short stories¿

The cast, including actress Jodie Comer, agreed to waive payment for their work on what Bennett calls his ¿stripped down versions of short stories¿

The cast, including actress Jodie Comer, agreed to waive payment for their work on what Bennett calls his ‘stripped down versions of short stories’

Instead, the money will go to NHS Charities Together. Pictured: Kristin Scott Thomas

Instead, the money will go to NHS Charities Together. Pictured: Kristin Scott Thomas

Instead, the money will go to NHS Charities Together. Pictured: Kristin Scott Thomas

‘It’s given me pages of dialogue!’ The show runs on BBC1 from Tuesday (June 23), kicking off with a double bill. 

The rest of the season, produced by Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr’s London Theatre Company and the BBC, will follow over subsequent weeks, as well as being available on BBC iPlayer.

Directors including Hytner, Marianne Elliott, Nadia Fall, Sarah Frankcom, Jeremy Herrin, Jonathan Kent and Josie Rourke have also donated their fees, as have award-winning creative designers Simon Bowles, Naomi Donne, Jacqueline Durran, George Fenton and Zac Nicholson — along with Robert Sterne, who cast the show.

Every single one of them began their careers in the theatre. Good people, those theatre folk.

Link hienalouca.com

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