First-rate TV drama/historical biography with a superb actress on top form
I saw this buried away in the "post-graveyard" slot of broadcasts for a new channel which is broadcasting "film history" scheduled for broadcast at something like 1.00 am. I saw the name "Janet Suzman", however, and immediately set the player to record as my experience has been that Ms Suzman's name in connection with any production (TV or film) has always been a commendation for first class work. My expectation was fully met as I found this production a totally first-rate piece of TV drama/historical biography at a level which I just do not think we would get from a mainstream UK television broadcasting channel anymore these days and, as nobody else has written a review in the 40+ years since the production was first broadcast, I thought I would express my appreciation and fill the gap at the same time! The first thing to say is that the production does NOT (as I had half- expected it would) focus just on "The Lady with the Lamp" and her work at Scutari in the Crimean War but rather covers her entire life from being a (very) young girl right through to just immediately preceding her death ( a triumph both for Ms Suzman and her make-up team!) What the film shows, rather than a heroine-worshipping piece of stock propaganda extolling the virtues of "the mother figure of British nursing" is that, in fact, Miss Nightingale was a FAR more complex character than that! In fact, it actually makes clear that her MAIN contribution to the development of British (and, in fact, Western) nursing lay not in patching up the wounds and stumps of wounded British troops in the Crimea, but, rather, much more in ploughing through volumes and volumes and volumes of statistics, reports, information, enquiries etc etc. so as to gain the evidence to present to Royal Enquiries and official bodies to bring about reform and change. The film shows her utter and total devotion to this, as well as her being, frankly, as "tough as old boots" in getting the recommendations she wanted across to officialdom (and making it clear that her insistence led directly to the premature death of a major male politician whom she (bluntly) used for this purpose! The fact that a "male" politician had to do this was, of course, de rigeur, in an age when women, no matter their level of wealth or education, were even denied the vote led alone leading parliamentary enquiries! The film is thus also a great tribute to Nightingale's importance in forwarding the status and rights of women in general as well. (The film also makes it clear that, while she had many male admirers and actually allegedly received three offers of marriage, she was not really "the marrying kind". The film in fact does even raise the question whether her attraction was not more towards women in other senses as well! I personally found this incredibly brave for a TV film made in 1974 (when people were still watching "On the buses" and "Carry on" films with their near-Victorian prudery and 'wink, wink' style of humour/addressing issues of sexuality!) and the producers/writer must really have been brave to do this! The film, by the way (rightly), does not come to any firm conclusion in this regard or in terms of most other aspects of Nightingale's life. What is does, however, magnificently do is to make clear that, infinitely far from the cut- out stereotypical Victorian heroine, she was a very complex, multifaceted and intriguing person and only an actress with Ms Suzman's huge abilities could have brought this out so well. (One final piece of praise also for the costume department which gets the clothing exactly right in every scene and ALSO for the people doing the ladies' incredibly complicated/intricate hair designs as well!) Very much to be recommended and just as watchable in 2017 as it must have been what is now 43 years (!) ago.
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