Hill Street Blues‘ Veronica Hamel stars in this TV movie, which is based on a lurid case — a series of infant deaths that proved to be murders committed by a nurse — but which refrains from dramatizing it in a lurid manner. Hamel is Dr. Kathy Holland, a pediatrician who starts her own children’s clinic in a small town in Texas. When one of her infant patients dies in a mysterious manner, suspicion falls on Holland and her assistant nurse, Genene Jones, played by L.A. Law‘s Susan Ruttan.
Holland soon comes to believe that Jones killed not only this little girl but many others in the hospital where both she and Holland once worked. But no one believes her, and most of Deadly Medicine is about the steady ruination of Holland’s life, even as she tries to prove her innocence and Jones’ guilt.
Hamel’s performance is strong and confident — she doesn’t play a martyred victim, but rather an intelligent woman trying to figure out how to save her career. Ruttan interprets Jones with similar firmness, presenting her as a proud but poor rural woman who has worked hard to be a nurse, and is determined to prove she’s as good as any of the worldly doctors she has worked for.
In their efforts, Hamel and Ruttan are helped by the script, written by Vicki Polon, L. Virginia Browne, and Andrew Laskos and based on the book of the same name by Kelly Moore and Dan Reed. The screenplay lays out all the facts — all the medical and legal wrinkles — with a clarity and headlong dramatic propulsion usually lacking in a ripped-from-the-headlines movie like this. Holland’s relationship with her husband (Scott Paulin) is little more than romance-novel goo, but the rest of Deadly Medicine is wrenchingly good melodrama. B+