Nellie Bly Still Doesn’t Get the Movie She Deserves


The story of journalist Nellie Bly going undercover in the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island in the 1880s is hugely important and fascinating. And while the Lifetime TV movie Escaping the Madhouse: The Nellie Bly Story (2019) looks better than the last very shitty attempt at the tale, it still doesn’t actually discuss Bly’s pioneering work. Instead, this version is just another historical horror vehicle for Christina Ricci. Ho-hum.

Instead of showing Bly as a writer who infiltrates the asylum, this movie posits Bly as amnesia victim trapped in the asylum and trying to get out. She slowly regains her memory, seemingly with the help and romantic affections of Dr. Josiah (Josh Bowman), while fighting the cartoonishly cruel Matron Grady (Judith Light). The plot is pretty dumb, but all the actors give it their best, and the production values are relatively high. If you knew nothing about the history, you might enjoy this as a Victorian thriller.

Escaping the Madhouse: The Nellie Bly Story (2019)

Nellie & the asylum inmates are alternately stripped down to their smocks or wearing dull dresses with aprons.

Escaping the Madhouse: The Nellie Bly Story (2019)

The good doctor … or is he?

Escaping the Madhouse: The Nellie Bly Story (2019)

The matron gets a standard-issue black Victorian dress and a old-maid wig.

Escaping the Madhouse: The Nellie Bly Story (2019)

Obligatory tragedy is tragic.

Escaping the Madhouse: The Nellie Bly Story (2019)

Even in Nellie’s non-insane street clothes, her hair’s down, geez.

It’s just annoying as hell to use pioneering writer and activist Nellie Bly’s name this way. While 2015’s 10 Days in a Madhouse had absolutely awful costumes, settings, camerawork, and acting, at least the script used real historical text from Bly and didn’t mess around with the facts. This 2019 flick is pure fiction. If the two movies were combined, one decent Nellie Bly screen story might have resulted. C’mon, Hollywood, you can do it!


14 Responses

  1. MoHub

    I’m beginning to wonder whether Christina Ricci is no longer capable of landing decent acting jobs.

  2. Lady Hermina De Pagan

    I can’t even! Judith Light looks like she’s wearing old biddy cosplay and in period Nellie would be in an asylum for the hair alone!

  3. hadabuck (@hadabuck)

    WTF. So much historical record to use. Why not just make a movie and NOT use Nellie Bly’s name in it. And the freaking HAIR. I just can’t anymore with these people.

    • Trystan L. Bass

      Yup. This actually ranks lower than The Tudors or Reign for taking historical characters & running roughshod over them. Imagine!

  4. Katie O'Donnell

    I was so excited when I saw that there was going to be another movie about her and it was SUCH a disappointment. Even just as a Victorian thriller it wasn’t very good, and as a historical fiction piece it’s like it actively tried to take away everything interesting and impressive about the real Nellie Bly.

  5. darlenemarshall

    smh When I was a working journalist, Nellie Bly, Ida B. Wells, and Ida Tarbell were my heroes. Any of them would be fascinating material for a film and it’s a shame to see Bly treated this way.

    • Katie O'Donnell

      The fact that they completely flipped Nellie Bly’s story from a woman who knowingly underwent horrible things to discover the truth of other people’s suffering into a woman who just has things happen to her was so frustrating. Nellie Bly is impressive because she knew she was going to suffer and she did it anyway to help people!

  6. Justme

    SO DISAPPOINTED. Seriously, does Hollywood hate female autonomy so much that they have to turn Nellie Bly into an amnesiac waif rescued by a man?!

    UPDATE: Yes. Yes they do.

  7. Joanna Syrokomla

    That’s what happens when they give the costume department 15 days to pull it all together. At least they all made money for Christmas.