There's nothing I love more than an odd film, languishing in that 90% of movies that just don't get remembered. Well, after watching this one, you will remember it.
It's part chilling thriller, part social commentary, as lowly hospital porter Matthew Harris (Paul McGann) loses his girlfriend to a suave good-looking doctor. When said doctor is killed in an accidental car crash, Harris takes the opportunity to change his life by stealing the doctor's. He bluffs his way into a job at a hospital in Bristol (wonder if Casualty was an inspiration?) but finds that the job involves a lot more than swanning about looking dishy. Luckily he has Nurse Christine Taylor (Amanda Donohoe). Thinking that he is simply a nervous med student, she unknowingly helps him to perpetuate the lie- and a few games of 'Doctors and Nurses' blind her to the fact that the man is completely clueless about medicine. Who will pay the price for Matthew's outrageous deception?
You actually forget it's a thriller at first, swept along by the abundant charms of Paul McGann. He just looks like a dishy doctor, doesn't he? It's even quite funny as Matthew fumbles around with rubber gloves and a little kid witnessing his attempted stitching procedure starts hitting him when he tries to check the kid's swollen eye. As Matthew starts improving through endless reading, examining his lovers and Christine's tutoring, you sort of want him to succeed- particularly when the other doctors are all terribly middle-class Oxbridge types. But there's an underlying callousness behind the pretty face and adorable determination. Go back and watch the film a second time and you can see it all in McGann's eyes. Brilliant piece of acting. Amanda Donohoe as his unknowing accomplice is very likeable; she's no airhead nurse but a dedicated and knowledgeable one. Ironically, she actually plays his love rival in The Rainbow- a DH Lawrence romp directed by Ken Russell and promising everything that those pedigrees suggest.
Anyway, the deception hurtles on and you realise the obvious: there is no way in hell that this guy can reach the level of medical knowledge and skill to match up to his identity. Identity and disguise is of course the implicit meaning of the title but there's also another. That's where the social commentary comes in- it is the hospital's willingness to conceal Matthew despite his incompetency, because if it ever got out that he wasn't really a doctor...well, the hospital would be ruined. That paper mask is the face of trustworthiness, where they look out for their own at a life-threatening cost.
Despite the fact that the film looks very nineties and low budget, its politics are bang on relevant. Doctors are one of the people that you trust most and so hospitals have to maintain that reputation- even if it means concealing some horrifying truths.