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Beautiful Dreamers Reviews

Veteran character actor Rip Torn stars as l9th-century poet Walt Whitman in BEAUTIFUL DREAMERS, a charming tale of sympathy, understanding and friendship. Set in Canada circa 1880, the story revolves around Dr. Maurice Bucke (Colm Feore), a young psychiatrist who seeks to change some of the barbaric methods used to treat patients at his asylum. After meeting the radical and outspoken American writer Whitman at a medical conference in Philadelphia, Maurice decides Walt's philosophy of human compassion offers a new approach to treating the mentally ill. As Maurice's consultant at the asylum in the town of London, Whitman is shocked to see patients strapped to beds, used as medical guinea pigs and so on. He convinces Maurice that the mentally ill need to be treated in a more humane way. Although Maurice's colleagues are extremely skeptical about his proposed changes, he goes ahead with them anyway. He abolishes the use of restraints or physical abuse, and instead starts exercise and dance programs for the asylum inmates. And slowly but surely, the hospital becomes a less dismal place and the patients become more receptive to therapy. Meanwhile, back at the Bucke household, Maurice's wife Jessie (Wendel Meldrum) isn't sure she likes having a "free-thinker" like Whitman in her house. But after awhile, she gets used to the crusty but benign American. In the final scene, the town comes to see a cricket game between the asylum residents and the local team. Most of the patients aren't too coordinated, but just participating in an outdoor activity gives them a sense of accomplishment. A simple game of cricket has not only provided a good therapeutic outlet for them, but it helps the local residents realize that the mentally ill have the same kinds of needs as the rest of us. Writer-director John Kent Harrison presents an important human interest story without being melodramatic or preachy. Also, the acting is very good indeed. Torn, in fact, is portraying Whitman for the second time; the first was in "Song of Myself," a 1976 TV presentation. Sheila McCarthy (I'VE HEARD THE MERMAIDS SINGING, STEPPING OUT), who plays a schizophrenic named Molly, delivers an especially moving and believable performance. And Francois Protat's photography gives viewers a real feel for the lush outdoor scenery. (Violence, profanity, nudity, sexual situations.)