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BBC's award winning drama on Florence Nightingale

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BBC's hIghest-rated drama single of the year!  From the catastrophe of the Crimean War, one person emerged famous and beloved — not a general, not a soldier, but a woman.  Her name was Florence Nightingale.

Florence Nightingale  waged a fierce battle for decent care for Britain’s soldiers,

This Award-winning period piece is based on Nightingale’s own letters and diaries, and filmed on the actual locations in England where she lived and worked. Often remembered as “the lady with the lamp” — she waged a fierce battle for decent care for Britain’s soldiers, ultimately revolutionizing modern healthcare itself — emerging as one of the most astonishing women in history.

"An intense rewarding portrait" The Observer, London "Stunning drama...." Daily Express, London

Deva-Marie Beck, PhD, RN

Based on Nightingale's letters and private journals, this award-winning BBC Drama begins at the end, with a moving rendition of her own flashbacks to the suffering endured — setting the stage for telling of her inspired "calling," her fierce determination to become a nurse and how tumultuous events developed as she began her famous career. 

 Laura Fraser as Florence Nightingale

Beginning with authentic scenes of the rural location where Nightingale actually returned home from the Crimea, her personal story unfolds — how she remembers what she has experienced, the choices she makes to bring her to this moment and the challenges she met at every turn — in war and in peace. 

Central in the film, Florence is portrayed by the gifted actress Laura Fraser. While her eyes are wider and rounder than depicted in historic photographs of Nightingale's own face, Laura delivers an acutely-believable one-pointed intensity to her script.  Through Laura, we watch how Nightingale navigated — between the gild and glamour of nineteenth century aristocratic Britain, through the circles of power and prestige, around the 'normal' expectations of family and friends — directly to witnessing the grit and gore of war's aftermath and to accomplishing something sustainable to change war's outcome. 

She is encircled by a supporting cast representing family, friends, her would-be suitor, and the leaders, including Queen Victoria and her Prime Minister, who struggle to cope with their times — sometimes serving self more than country. Again, the actors do not always look exactly like the photos we see depicted in Nightingale biographies.  Yet they too portray the authentic dynamics and tensions between staying safe in comfort zones and capturing a destiny to change the course of history.

We also witness Nightingale's own physical, emotional, mental and spiritual struggle — as she begins her life-long recovery from chronic brucellosis, the debilitating auto-inflammatory infection she contacted while serving the war-wounded in dirty settings. As well, we can come to more fully understand what she endured in the repetitive strain of 'being with' suffering — also an issue still much 'with' us today — impacting upon our quality of life — putting into stark question our ability to sustain the caring and expertise the world still needs from us, as nurses.

Using a device more often seen in Shakespearean stage production, this Nightingale screenplay develops key moments when Florence, herself, speaks directly to today's audience — to us as the watchers of the film. At first this seems like an unsettling trick of hand — to bring Florence so quickly to our time, with her eyes directly to the camera. Yet soon this chance — to hear from Nightingale's authentic reflections, lifted from her own diaries — what she was remembering, thinking and determining to do next — becomes a rare, insightful opportunity to witness her nursing mandate emerging, even then, to establish our nursing mandate — for us — to carry forward, today.

Eye to eye, she tells her story like it was, oft-times including the graphic, 'gory' details — reminding us of the nursing reports we share with each other, even now. She focuses on the continued challenge to witness suffering and to serve those in pain — set against the backdrop of her own personal life, the need for love, for family, understanding, comfort and security — the same issues continuing to impact upon us, both professionally and personally, as nurses, in our time. As she accepts what she must do, as a nurse — even beyond tending the sick and wounded — she challenges us directly, to ponder and pro-actively enter the wider world of changing national and global policy to prevent further suffering and promote health.

 The Crimean War

Set against Nightingale's own travels between gild and grit, the surrounding societal story of mid-nineteenth century Britain also unfolds. Notable scenes show the disconnect between the realities of war and the ways leaders and citizens alike face these horrors.  A leading Queen realizes that her advisors have not — for their own reasons — brought the full truth to her ears. A father struggles to understand why his daughter would want to make such a sacrifice. Florence herself does not fully realize the impact of her work, but struggles, instead, to get the job done, over and over again. 

As well, the script cuts, several times, to a frivolous and gaudy musical satire of soldiers and officers singing Florence's praises, off-key, without respect, in drunken abandon. At first, these scenes are off-putting too, until the watcher realizes that this device accomplishes key outcomes. This illustrates how life can sometimes be far too much to bear and, then, human nature seeks to experience even bawdy humour to cope with the pain. These scenes are also reminiscent of our own time as we watch political satire and struggles for power take center stage, often distracting us from asking, "what can be done to actually end suffering" and "what might I do?"

Of course, Florence answers these questions for herself, in her famous way as we can spend a hour — through the lens of this commendable film — participating in her early inspirations and the struggles she faced. Alas, this hour really only begins chapter one of her tremendous life and leaves us wanting to know more, wondering she achieved her vast global influence, through the decades, beyond this film's timeline. How did she sustain her inspiration and gather her will to eventually change the course of history?  Perhaps these stories are for further films and for ongoing commitments to record the continual saga of human health. 

Even as Florence addressed the problems of her day — to create new solutions still benefitting us today — similar problems still recur for us.  As we look to our present and future — to the delivery of quality healthcare, not just for ourselves in our own nations — but also for every nation — to addressing the poverty, illiteracy, prejudice, abuse, disempowerment, apathy and ignorance still directly impacting upon the health and death of suffering peoples — Nightingale's story is as keenly relevant as ever. 

This 2010 Commemorative Nightingale DVD is a keepsake for us in our time — a potent opportunity to capture, share and ponder her story — during her 2010 Centennial and beyond —  a compelling insight and revelation of a life that continues to vitally influence the world.

Florence Nightingale is an Odyssey Networks and BBC co-production.

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In 2008 & 2009, Asoka Roy’s family created a Platinum Sponsorship of the Nightingale Declaration Campaign to honor the memory of their sister — a pioneering nurse & midwife in both India & the United States. Projects developed from this contribution included an India-wide outreach of the Nightingale Declaration dedicated to Asoka’s memory.
See: An Indian Nightingale
Generous Support of Drs. Rustum & Della Roy