There are moments in Dangerous Remedy when you might find yourself trying to dissect truth from fiction.
Did a doctor in Melbourne in the 1960s really stumble onto an illegal abortion racket that was condoned by the Homicide squad? Yes. But was he really part crusader, part action man in his quest to expose the truth? Hmmm…
ABC1’s latest telemovie takes place in the inner suburbs of Melbourne at a time when everyone was wearing Mad Men fashions and women’s liberation was yet to take hold. Young girls, shamed at the prospect of becoming single mothers with no future, would seek out ‘backyard abortions’ by unscrupulous men, more interested in the money that would secretly change hands.
Scottish-born doctor Bertram Wainer became aware of the prevalence of the underground operations when he attended to a young girl who was bleeding to death. It ignited in him a crusade to fight for legal abortions in Victoria against the church, establishment and medical fraternity. But he had no idea he would also uncover a racket that was encouraged by Victoria Police.
In his quest to expose the truth Wainer sought the help of journalist friends, but in doing so put his own life, and that of his family, at risk. It’s on the record that Wainer was the target of assassins and the victim of an arson attack. As storytelling source material, this is dizzying stuff, folks.
In the central role of Wainer is actor / director Jeremy Sims (Wild Boys, Beneath Hill 60). Sims brings enormous commitment to the role and carries the weight of almost every scene. When Wainer’s not protesting, he’s dodging bullets, chasing shonky doctors, running into burning houses and uncovering a deep mire of conspiracy -he barely has any time to run his own practice. Sims gives it everything he has.
Susie Porter plays Peggy Berman, a receptionist at an abortion clinic, and a woman having an affair with Det. Insp. Jack Ford (William McInnes). Berman plays a central role in this saga, trapped between two worlds but managing to look ever-glamorous through it all. It’s nice to see McInnes in a dark role, as a man compromised by principles.
Also appearing in this true-life tale are Gary Sweet, Maeve Dermody, Peter O’Brien, Caroline Craig and an impressive performance by Mark Leonard Winter as journo Lionel Pugh.
The telemovie is written by Kris Wyld (Wildside, East West 101, White Collar Blue) and directed by Ken Cameron (Satisfaction, Underbelly, Offspring, Wild Boys). Visually it captures the striking fashions and art deco homes of Melbourne all of which would be right at home in Mad Men.
For all its virtues Dangerous Remedy is big on style, perhaps at the expense of the content. Whilst it’s fair to say some of the shocking dramatics that befall Wainer did take place, here they stray close to adventures befitting a Saturday matinee on the silver screen. I had difficulty believing the ‘romanticised’ portrayal of such an unassuming general practitioner.
That said, Wainer’s obsession was pivotal to the State Government establishing an inquiry.
Dangerous Remedy is a glamorous yarn about a colourful chapter in Victoria when medicine and the law were running rampant.
Dangerous Remedy airs 8:30pm Sunday on ABC1.