In 1887, American journalist Nellie Bly, who was twenty-three at the time, decided to fake insanity to be admitted into the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island (right off the coast of New York City). She was inside ten days before she was rescued, and then she wrote of her experiences in the book Ten Days in A Madhouse, exposing the horrible treatment of the women inside. Her efforts led to the reformation and later closing of all mental institutions in America.
I read the book a couple years ago and I absolutely loved it. It was such an important book at the time, as many people (both men and women, though Nellie’s experiences in a women’s asylum was featured in the book) were being placed in madhouses even if they weren’t mad. And, many times, the treatment inside caused them to lose their minds.
When I learned that Lifetime was releasing a movie starring Christina Ricci as Nellie Bly, I knew I had to watch the movie. It was released on January 19, 2019.
But, since this is Hollywood and I’m beginning to wonder if they can get anything right, this movie was pretty bad.
So, the plot is pretty basic and you kind of could figure it out from the trailer. Notice that it says “inspired by a true story.” Yeah, well, that definitely came across. In the movie, Nellie has no memory of who she is in the beginning, whereas in real life Nellie never lost her memory due to oxygen deprivation. While some things are done right in the movie (for example, bathwater is freezing cold as well as the food being disgusting gruel), most of it actually did a disservice to the real story.
In this movie, the hospital is shown as being clean, and the women are as well. However, in real life, rats ran around the rooms, towels were not cleaned so many of the patients developed boils or rashes on their skin, and the nurses often would yell at the women and beat them. In the movie, the matron is portrayed as being the villain, but even what she does isn’t as harsh and cruel as what many of the nurses did in real life.
The characters are mostly fiction as well. Matron Grady and Doctor Josiah are fiction, thus so is the weird obsession Josiah develops for Nellie and the backstory of Matron Grady. Also, in the movie Nellie has a lover who comes to rescue her, who is also pure fiction. Nellie is supposed to be twenty-three when she went to Blackwell, but Christina Ricci is thirty-eight, making her fifteen years older than her character. While Ricci does look young, she could not pass as that young.
The only thing which is redeemed in this movie is the acting. Christina Ricci gives an amazing performance, as does Judith Light as the matron and Josh Bowman as the doctor. Even the other patients who had extremely small rolls do an amazing job, especially Anja Savcic, who plays Lottie.
But the movie itself was horrible. It made the problem seem like the resentment Matron Grady had towards humanity, and not a universal problem of uncleanliness and cruelty which might happen in any madhouse. Everything was too clean to be realistic, and it did a disservice to Nellie’s story and the true conditions of mental institutions at the time.
I didn’t realize how negative I viewed this movie until I actually sat down to write this review. I’m sorry for the mostly negative posts, but more good things to come, I’m sure.
Have you watched this movie? Or any of the multiple adaptations of Nellie Bly’s life? Have you read the book this movie was inspired by? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more madness and, as always,
Best wishes in your life full of adventure,