Breaking the Mold - The Story of Penicillin 2009 07 29 BBC 4
File Name: Breaking the Mould.avi
History books tell us that Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, but that's not the whole story. This drama uncovers the forgotten team involved in the development and manufacture of the drug that transformed medicine.
There can be few less promising subjects for a TV drama than the large-scale cultivation of anti-bacterial mould. Yet despite its unsexy subject matter and the fact that large chunks of the script sounded as if they’d been cribbed from a biochemistry textbook, Breaking the Mould proves to be unexpectedly absorbing.
It was Professor Alexander Fleming who discovered the mould’s anti-bacterial properties, largely by accident, in 1928. But it was Howard Florey and his team at Oxford’s Dunn School of Pathology who, during the early years of the Second World War, learnt how to cultivate the mould in sufficient quantities and to extract the all-important active ingredient.
Eventually both men were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1945 but since then Florey’s crucial contribution has been curiously forgotten outside the scientific community and his native country, Australia, where former Prime Minister Robert Menzies hailed him as “the most important man ever born in Australia”.
Writer Kate Brooke and director Peter Hoar make a remarkably good fist at redresssing the balance, helped in no small part by having Dominic West play the part of Howard Florey. He has that happy knack of making you forget about all the other characters you have previously seen him play.
West, best known as Det Jimmy McNulty in The Wire, has the square shoulders and jutting jaw of a middleweight boxer. But here, with the addition of little more than a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles and a tub of Brylcreem, he looked every inch the cloistered academic.
Indeed the film’s main achievement is to bring such an awkward, complex subject as Florey and his forgotten research to life. Breaking the Mould is never going to be the most exciting or emotional of dramas.Rather, it feels like a fascinating documentary in disguise.
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