It’s a sad state of affairs when hugely important stories about historical women don’t get adequate attention on film or TV. Such is the case of 10 Days in a Madhouse, a 2015 film (currently available on Amazon) about journalist Nellie Bly going undercover in the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island in the 1880s. The subject matter is excellent, but the production is terrible!
Most glaringly, to us of course, the costumes just plain suck. They’re cheapie, no-budget, bullshit versions of vaguely Victorian nonsense, usually topped by terrible wigs and elastic-y mob caps. But the acting is also fairly awful. The lead was an unknown before and after this flick, and the supporting cast is not worth noting either — they all deliver their lines flatly and with little nuance, which is pretty pathetic considering the source material. Much of the script was taken directly from Bly’s book of the same name, and some of the text is read in voiceover as well. The wooden acting and the voiceover readings combine to make this feel like a really weak-ass audiobook with shitty pictures.
All that said, the topic is incredibly important, and there are powerful scenes showing the brutality of the asylum and how the system was stacked against these women. One inmate who was committed by her adulterous husband comments ruefully, “A woman has no voice when a man sends her away as insane” (if that doesn’t resonate with women today, you aren’t paying attention). It’s just hard to watch, not simply because the subject matter is uncomfortable, but because the acting and production quality suck so hard. You want this amazing story to be told, but with legit actors wearing not-so-shitty historical costumes. For every thought-provoking scene, there’s three more super cringe-worthy ones. UGH.
The Lifetime network is supposedly working on a Nellie Bly TV movie starring Christina Ricci. We can only hope it’s better than this one because Bly deserves it!
Have you tried to watch 10 Days in a Madhouse? Have you read Nellie Bly’s book?