Monday, November 11, 2013

Finally, a penicillin hero who is NOT "Box Office Poison"

Hollywood has never done a film about the exciting wartime history of the world's best known medicine, penicillin, because the character of two best known protagonists, Alexander Fleming and Howard Fleming - on closer examination - proved 100% pure Box Office poison, particularly to women who are the main customers for medically-oriented dramas.

What exactly Henry Dawson contributed to the success of penicillin has never been in doubt, but what has frustrated American, British and Australian writers on penicillin has been determining just why this normally non-assertive, and now dying, doctor did what he did .

Why exactly did he push so hard  and so long to save the "4Fs of the 4Fs" , against the full force of wartime bureaucracy and at the cost of his own life ?

Here indeed was a hero on the Hollywood scale , if only it was clear why he did what he did .

I think the answer as to why he did what he did, is to consider the character-building events in his life,  before he settled permanently in New York and ultimately took out American citizenship.

After all, he spent the first two thirds of his relatively short life in Canada , in Nova Scotia ,where he was born and raised, in particular.

An instinctive feel for the uniqueness of Nova Scotia's history and culture in the tremulous period just after the turn of the last century is what all these foreign writers, fine as their other talents are, simply lack.

The story of Henry Dawson's quixotic-seeming but ultimately world-shaking Manhattan Project, his drive to see penicillin provided for ALL humanity, is as much character-driven as it is events-driven.

It is his quietly heroic character that will bring customers to buy the book, see the movie, attend the play and musical, above all to bring out those three hankies.

Any history of wartime penicillin seems like a chaotic jumble of events, one damn thing after another ,with no overarching theme to tie them all together.

But now wartime penicillin will be recast as the leading part of a globe wide conflict, taking place underneath the military events of WWII, between two very different ways of treating our fellow human beings .

And the clashing personalities of Henry Dawson and Howard Florey will aptly represent both sides.

But it is Henry Dawson's noble, selfless character, revealed for the first time, that will finally make the story of wartime penicillin the feel-good movie of the year it has always deserved to be....

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