Florence Nightingale (1985)

Florence Nightingale (1985)
 
 

The Lady with the Lamp

Jaclyn Smith in Florence Nightingale (1985)

1840's Britain and as the daughter of the aristocratic William (Jeremy Brett) and Fanny Nightingale (Claire Bloom), young Florence Nightingale (Jaclyn Smith) is expected to marry and be a socially respectable wife. The trouble is that whilst she has been seeing her cousin for some time she is not interested in marrying him, in fact after a visit to a hospital in Middlesex open to the lower classes Florence is disgusted by what she sees and decides it is her calling to become a nurse and help those less fortunate than herself. Despite objections from her mother and requests of marriage from the handsome Richard Monckton Milnes (Timothy Dalton) Florence heads to Germany where she trains up in new techniques bringing them back with her when she returns to England.

With help from a friend she gets the position of Superintendent of Nursing at the Harley Street hospital and despite objections to her ways sets about implementing improved nursing starting with hygiene. Later on having learned of the horrid hospital conditions awaiting the brave men fighting overseas in the Crimean War Florence assembles a group of untrained nurses to head with her overseas to help out in these hospitals, once again coming up against objections from those who don't agree with her methods.

Timothy Dalton in Florence Nightingale (1985)

I have never been one for watching period dramas having been forced to watch "Brideshead Revisited" as a child during the 80s and finding it stiff and dull. It is because of that experience I have tended to avoid anything which looked like it would be another stuffy drama about the well to do but have been fortunate enough that those I have chosen to watch have been relatively entertaining. It is why for a long time I put off watching the TV movie "Florence Nightingale" as not only was it a period drama full of stuffy aristocratic types but it was one made in the 80s when they seemed all the stuffier. Well having watched "Florence Nightingale" I was pleasantly surprised as within minutes I found myself engaged in the slowly unfolding dramatization of the life of the famous Florence Nightingale.

There is a nice flow to "Florence Nightingale" which for those who don't know the details of Florence's life will be able to follow it easily. We learn about the social expectations of her parents and their disappointment as well as the conditions in side hospitals at the time. In fairness I don't know how accurate "Florence Nightingale" is either to Florence's story or in its recreation of the era but as I said it does a nice job of making the story accessible and bringing it to life.

Now there is the small matter of the casting of Jaclyn Smith as Florence Nightingale meaning we have an American playing a British character in a period drama. For me the casting works because part of the reason I found it easy to watch was because Jaclyn Smith has a warmth which comes across in her characterization of the famous character. Plus there are some familiar faces amongst the supporting cast including Timothy Dalton, Timothy West, Brian Cox as well as for fans of Emmerdale Lesley Dunlop.

What this all boils down to is that "Florence Nightingale" is a very good movie which even for those who don't tend to enjoy these typically stuffy period dramas is engaging. Much of that is down to the story of Florence Nightingale but also the performances as well as the direction with the story ending up easy to get into for those with little knowledge of the real Florence Nightingale or the period in which it is set.

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