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Breaking the Mould is a made-for-television film, about the development of penicillin.  When people think of penicillin, they automatically think of Alexander Fleming, and this film is an attempt to tell the true story behind the medical breakthrough and credit those who were very involved, but largely forgotten.  It must be said that Fleming does not come out of this film too well!

Initially I watched it only because Dominic West was in it, and I admit that I did wonder if it would hold my attention, but it was actually very interesting.  West plays Howard Florey, the Australian pharmacologist and pathologist, who in 1938, was interested in Fleming’s earlier discovery of penicillin, which Fleming had abandoned several years earlier, believing that it had little application.  Together with Ernst Chain, a German biochemist, and scientist Norman Heatley, Florey determined to work out how to manufacture large quantities of penicillin.  Despite problems with funding and money flow, the team battled on.  Florey was also again patenting the formula, as he believed that to do so would make the cure too expensive for many people.

After all of their efforts, Fleming – who is portrayed as something of a glory-hunter  – ends up taking most if not all of the credit for what the others have achieved, although Florey and Chain did share the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine with Fleming, in 1945.

The film tells the story simply, and held my interest throughout.  It showed the human element of the story, as well as the scientific parts, by depicting the early trials which were carried out on hospital patients (not always with successful results).  As the events took place during World War 2, everyone was very aware of the possibilities for treating wounded soldiers, and were equally anxious that the formula for extracting penicillin did not fall into enemy hands.

At an hour and 20 minutes long, this is an informative and interesting film, which made me want to learn more about the men behind the science.

Year of release: 2009

Director: Peter Hoar

Producers: Charlotte Bloxham, Pier Wilkie, John Yorke

Writer: Kate Brooke

Main cast: Dominic West, Oliver Dimsdale, Joe Armstrong, Denis Lawson, John Sessions, Kate Fleetwood, Amanda Douge

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