John Kent Harrison

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Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film


In 1877, Richard Maurice Bucke (1837-1902) (Colm Feore) becomes the superintendent of the asylum in London Ontario, where physical restraints are used. His lovely but tense wife (Wendel Meldrum) is grudgingly deferential to his professional needs. They are parents of a happy little girl. Bucke travels to a Philadelphia conference to read a paper on his liberal ideas about care of the mentally ill, but he senses the intolerance of the audience and storms out.

An odd "free thinker" in the audience--who turns out to be the great American poet Walt Whitman (Rip Torn)--admired the paper. Whitman invites the doctor to meet his mentally disturbed brother kept at home rather than in an asylum. Smitten with Whitman and his philosophy, Bucke brings him to Canada.

At first, his wife and the town are suspicious of the famous stranger, but they gradually change their minds. The asylum replaces its coercive methods of care with exercise, music, and talk. The film closes with a lively summer cricket match between the asylum (patients and workers) and the town.

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