Lady with a Lamp (1951)



Director:     Herbert Wilcox.

Starring:     Anna Neagle (Florence Nightingale), Michael Wilding (Sidney Herbert), Felix Aylmer (Lord Palmerston), Maureen Pryor (Sister Wheeler), Gladys Young (Mrs. Bracebridge), Julian D'Albie (Mr. Bracebridge),  Arthur Young (W. E. Gladstone),  Edwin Styles (Mr. Nightingale),  Helen Shingler (Parthenope Nightingale),  Henry Edwards (Howard Russell), Helen Pickard (Queen Victoria).  

The story of Florence Nightingale of nursing fame during the Crimean War. 


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

St. James' Palace, London 1907.  Two politicians are riding in a coach over to the home of Florence Nightingale.  A younger man tells Sir Douglass Dawson that it's about time that Miss Nightingale was awarded something, even if it is rather belated.  Some of the politicians even thought that Miss Nightingale was dead.  Dawson tells his colleague that he knew Florence when she was young and then she certainly was no recluse.  At Broadlands, the home of her friends, the Palmerstons, she would dance all night and her dance card was always full. 

Flashback.  Mr. Sidney Herbert dances with Florence.  Richard Mills comes along when it is his turn to dance with her.  Florence's sister Parthenope is worried about Florence because she is always working and never enjoying her life.  Herbert comes to her defense, but Parthenope explains that there's another side to her sister that is bewildering.  The subject changes to politics.  The prime minister is coming to the party because of the recent troubles with Russia messing with Turkey. 

Mr. Mills gets Florence alone outside.  She has traveled a lot and was in Rome, Athens and Egypt, among other places.  She says that God has called her to nursing, but the family has been opposed to her plans.  Richard knows that it has been four years since he first proposed marriage to Florence.  He also knows that Florence has never shown any interest in her many suitors.  Richard asks her to marry him.  Florence says that she loves Richard, but she won't marry and adds that she doesn't want him to ask her again.

The yard man, George Winch, comes to Florence to tell Florence that his mother is hurt.  Florence tells him that she will go see his mother immediately. 

Embley Park, Hampshire.  Florence goes out to see Mrs. Winch.    Her parents and sister talk about her as she drives her rig to the house of the Winches.  Mom complains that the other day, a man needed a splint on his hip, but she told Florence that she can apply a split below the knee or at the shoulders going upwards, but that is it.  In these days, nursing is not a profession.  The family refers to "common nurses". 

Florence sees Mrs. Winch.  She says that she will ask Dr. Trotter to come and see her.  She opens the window, which upsets Mrs. Winch.  Florence tells the woman that there is no truth in the belief that night air is not good for a person.  Outside with George, she tells him to pick-up in the house and disinfect everything. 

Florence arrives later to a formal dinner at the Palmerston's place.  Most of the people there do not approve of the nursing profession.  Florence argues that a woman should be able to be a lawyer, a doctor or whatever she wants.  She says that the hospital situation in the military is a terrible disgrace.  Florence wants to replace male military orderlies with trained nurses.  She says she will make sure her nurses are trained. Right now, she says, 9 out of 10 of the current "nurses" are drunkards and almost all of them are prostitutes.  Florence's rousing defense of her plans upsets many at the dinner table. 

Parthenope comes in to talk with Florence.  She asks:  "Oh, how can you make us so unhappy?"  Mother has gone to bed crying.  Florence complains that her sister has only been ashamed of her work in nursing. 

Florence speaks with Sidney.  She says she has come to apologize to Lady Palmerston for the arguments she started at yesterday's dinner.  But Sidney wants to talk about something else.  He has an assignment for Florence that will take her from her home area.  He asks her if he may recommend her for the position of superintendent of the Hospital for Sick Gentlemen.  Florence is thrilled and says:  "This is the answer to all my prayers, to all my dreams."

Florence is at work at the hospital when the ladies of the hospital committee come to her and one lady tells her that they don't want to allow any Roman Catholics into the hospital.  Florence says this bigotry means nothing to her.  The hospital should be open to Catholics, Jews and Muslims.  If it is not, she will resign.  The women ask her to please not do that.  They agree to let her manage the hospital the way she sees fit. 

Sidney Herbert argues that Britain should keep the Bosphorus Strait open to shipping,  Therefore, they must go to war to keep Turkey independent of Russia.

The war begins.  In it there is a charge of the light brigade of 600 men directly into an artillery position.  Many of the cavalrymen are killed. 

It is snowing in the Crimea.  The British wounded are put into the horrible military hospital at the Scutari Barrack Hospital.  The journalist Howard Russell says that:  "'God help us!' is the cry of the men going to the Scutari Barrack Hospital."  Back home the articles by Russell make the people very mad about the poor care the wounded are receiving during the Crimean War.  There are way too few surgeons and the male orderlies are useless.  Lady Forester is organizing a private band of nurses at her own expense. 

Sidney argues with his fellow politicians that Florence Nightingale should be the superintendent of nursing in the Crimea and she should be fully supported by the government. 

Belgrave Square, October 1854.  Florence visits Sidney.  He makes the observation that many voices might be raised against Florence and him if they go ahead with their nursing plans.  Florence is not discouraged and Sidney asks that God might bless Florence.  He tells her that Celina and Charles Bracebridge will go with her to the Crimea.   In all there will be about 38 ladies in the group.

The dock at Scutari, November 4, 1854.  Florence and her team arrive and then walk to their appointed hospital. 

Herbert is not happy about the news from the war front.  Meanwhile, Florence is having trouble with the head of medical care at the hospital.  Dr. Richard Milnes patronizes Florence.  She tells him that she wants to take a tour around the hospital.  Dr. Milnes objects that there will be "many terrible sights" that will upset Florence, but Florence just tells him that she is a nurse and can take it.  So, Dr. Milnes shows her around the hospital. 

Mr. Bracebridge tells the nursing staff that another great battle is on and that this means plenty of wounded soldiers to attend to.  Nurse Johnson asks if after work hours they can go see the sights in Constantinople across the waters?  Bracebridge tells her that there are many sight there for her to see. 

Dr. Milnes wants Florence and her nurses to just attend to the dying.  Florence replies:  "I'm more interested in the living, Dr. Milnes.  Only God can help the dying."  She says her nurses are at the ready to serve the head doctor.  Milnes tells her only that when he really needs her nurses, he will send for them.  The result of this is that the nurses are put to work only on cleaning and scrubbing and preparing bandages. 

A young doctor comes to Florence and asks her to help him by giving him some of her nurses.  Florence answers that she needs the approval of the head doctor, before she can assign her nurses to doctors.  The young doctor thinks this is completely unreasonable.  Florence knows that, but what can she do? 

Florence goes to complain to Dr. Milnes.  It's been three days since the nurses landed here and they are not really doing much of anything.  And there is indescribable filth throughout the hospital.  She reminds Dr. Milnes that while he holds back, men are dying.  The doctor says he knows that:  "This is war."

Sidney Herbert says out of the 2,349 wounded admitted to the hospital at Scutari, 1,405 (or 60% percent) have died.  This is a shocking statistic, but Herbert still can't get any real support from his fellow politicians.  He tells the men that if they refuse to do something about this situation, they will justly deserve the hatred of every wife and mother of a soldier in the Crimea. 

Sister Wheeler comes to Florence to tell her that she cannot stand it anymore.  The orderlies don't even bring water to the poor wounded soldiers.  Florence asks her to calm down and Sister Wheeler sees this a indifference to the plight of the wounded soldiers.  Florence says that the nurses can't do anything until they get permission from Dr. Milnes.  If they act without permission, they will jeopardize the larger cause of nursing. 

Dr. Milnes lies to journalist Russell saying that the services of the nurses are being fully utilized.  Russell pipes up with:  "But are they actually nursing the men?"  Just then the young doctor asks Milnes for nurses to help him with the overflow of wounded and dying men.  Probably because the journalist is right there, Milnes gives his permission. 

The young doctor bursts into Florence's office and asks her for nurses.  And he has permission.  The nurses go right to work.  Later Florence with a lamp in her hand checks on the men of the wards.  The men look so much better already.  They are in hospital gowns and their wounds are well bandaged.  Everyone has at least one blanket and the whole area looks cleaner and well-organized.

Charles and Florence are having a hard time getting the necessary hospital supplies.  So they go straight to the source of the supplies, but the supplier says that he can only provide supplies to the .purveyor.  So Florence goes to the purveyor.  She says she wants 200 hot water bottles, 2,000 towels and 1,000 beds.  The purveyor says he can't help her and she tells him that all she gets from him are excuses for his inability to produce the items.  She says she orders him to provide the necessary supplies.  The purveyor says he takes his commands from his superior, not her.  So Florence has to resort to a threat.  Unless the purveyor gets her the supplies that she needs, she will tell her and his superiors that either the purveyor goes, or she goes!  This now impresses the purveyor. 

Lord Stratford's, the British Ambassador's, Residence, Constantinople.  The ambassador is tired of hearing from Florence.  He wishes she would just read to the men and forget everything else.  He says he sends all of Florence's letters to him to Dr. Milnes.  He says:  "Things must go through proper channels."

Herbert complains that Mr. Gladstone opposes every measure he brings up.  He tells his wife that he is sick and tired of this battle to help the war effort.  He writes a letter to Florence. 

Florence says to Celina that poor Sidney has been shut out from all quarters.  Celina agrees, saying it's just monstrous.  But Celina does think that Florence will succeed in the end.  Florence receives a letter from the queen.  She says she feels for Florence's suffering. 

A man is badly wounded (and probably won't live for much longer) and he requests to see Florence, who he knows.  Florence is taken to the man, who turns out to be George Winch.  He tells Florence:  "Tell me mother I did me best."  Florence tells the doctor that she will stay with George.  The doctor says:  "There's no need, Miss Nightingale."  George is dead.

Florence shows up at the ambassador's ball and says she wants to speak with the ambassador.  While she waits for the ambassador, she watches the dancers and remembers back to her days of dancing.  The ambassador arrives and Florence asks him for his help.  The problem is that the ambassador wants to use any extra money to build a church in Constantinople.  Florence says she needs the money to help her tend to the recuperating wounded soldiers.  She invites the ambassador to come see the hospital one day.  Florence leaves. 

Palmerston asks Herbert why can't Florence control her nurses?  Sister Wheeler is questioned by Florence.  She says that the sister wrote a letter to her aunt in which she deliberately exaggerated the problems with the military hospital.  The aunt gave the letter to the newspaper and it was published.  This has caused a real controversy in Britain.  Florence says the sister has caused immense harm here and back at home.  She would normally fire Sister Wheeler, but Herbert has written her to let Wheeler stay, at least while the debate rages.  Sister Wheeler apologizes.

In Parliament Herbert expresses his disappointment over his having received so little political support for his attempts to help the wounded soldiers. 

January 28, 1855.  A vote is being taken on a resolution offered by the opposition.  Herbert votes no on the resolution, but in the end there are 305 ayes and only 148 nos.  The resolution passes.  Herbert feels crushed and walks out amidst all the jubilation.  He goes home and tells his wife that his side was heavily defeated.  To his surprise, his wife is happy about it.  She says now her husband can go to the spa where he can get some very needed rest.  Sidney tells his wife that he is ill, but also tells her not to tell Florence anything about this. 

The Crimea.  May, 1855.  Florence and Charles have ridden to near the battle front.  Florence checks in on Mrs. Roberts who is running the nursing effort there.  She congratulates the woman on her successful efforts.  Florence says she must let Mrs. Roberts have more help.  Suddenly, Florence feels dizzy and faints.  She has Crimean fever.  The doctor says they have to cut off her long locks of hair. 

Herbert says that the news is very bad from the Crimea.  Florence is sick.  His wife tells him that Florence will not die.  The prayers of the whole nation are with her. 

Lord Ragland, the commander-in-chief, comes out to check on Florence's recovery.  He finds her in her bed in the hospital and tells her that she has done a magnificent job.  Ragland wants to send Florence home, because she's a national heroine and she needs some rest.  She, however, will not go back to England until the war is over.  Two of Florence's former patients come to say hello to her.  They brought her an owl in a cage to replace the one that died.  Florence is very grateful for the owl. 

The ambassador receives a message that since the Russians have been vanquished, a peace treaty in Paris has now been signed.  The war is officially over.  Florence lays flowers on the grave of Corporal George Winch of the Coldstream Guards in the Scutari graveyard.  Talking to all the wounded who died, she says:  "Goodbye my children."  She swears she will continue to fight for their cause.   

The government plans for a big homecoming for Florence.  But Florence doesn't want a big homecoming.  She quietly gets on a train and gets off at her home stop.  The station master is shocked to see her arrive so early.  He tells her she didn't give them any time to set up the big reception for her.  Florence just walks home from the station. 

Lea Hurst, Derbyshire, August 7, 1856.  Florence comes into the house.  Her parents and sister are very happy to see her.  Mother now fawns over her daughter.  She tells Florence that she is ill, but Florence says she is better now.  Mother says now that her work is done, she can get some rest.  But Florence tells her no.  Her real work has just begun.

Florence goes to speak with Herbert.  She tells him that she can't seem to forget the terrible plight of what she calls "her children".  She says she still hears the cries of the sick and wounded soldiers.  Herbert says that a Royal Commission on the health care system will review what happened during the Crimean War.  He wants Florence to go to Sir James' house, which is very close to the Queen's castle Balmoral in Scotland. 

In Scotland Queen Victoria and her husband Albert come to speak with Florence, who tells them that the wounded still need help, even though the war is over.  The queen asks her to explain and Florence does so.  In their carriage headed back to Balmoral, Victoria says she is very impressed with Florence. 

India, November 1859.  There is a debate over the reforms supported by Florence Nightingale.  The feeling is that she will meet the criticisms of the bureaucrats.  One of the discussants defends Florence and says that Florence and Herbert have already had their way through the Royal Commission. 

Herbert addresses the House of Lords.  Florence later tells him that it's been four years since the Royal Commission started its work.  Herbert tries to tell Florence that he is sick, but Florence says Herbert simply can't go away for a long rest.  So Herbert works on in support of health reform. 

Herbert argues that the army must have better living conditions for the nation owes the soldiers a great debt.  Gladstone criticizes his ideas by saying that providing of better living conditions for the wounded soldiers is "pampering" them. 

Wilton House, August 2, 1861.  The wife tells Herbert not to talk.  Gladstone writes him a letter in which he says:  "forgive me if I have ever torn his tender spirit".   Herbert says about him:  "So kind outside the House and so different inside it."  He tells his wife that Florence must go on. 

Dr. Sutherland tells Florence that unless she stops working at this rate, she won't last another six months.  Celina comes in to tell Florence that Herbert died early this morning.  Now Florence feels very guiltily.  She blames herself because she says she made light of his illness.  She says she loved him and served him as no one else.  She then asks God for the strength to carry on. 

Back to the present.  So Florence lived. She now approaches her 90th year of life.  The two politicians get out of the carriage.  Mr. Dawson goes in to speak to Florence.  He talks to her caretaker who says that Florence is not ill, just very old.  Florence knows she will be receiving a special honor and she is pleased.  She made the ordinary soldier, considered then as the scum of the earth, into a hero.  Under Edward VII she will now receive the insignia of the Order of Merit for her invaluable services to the country and to humanity. 

The caretaker comes in to give the insignia to Florence.  Florence looks at it.  She is the first woman to be so honored.  She says:  "Too kind.  Too kind.  I only did my duty." 

"A lady with a lamp shall stand,

in the great history of the land,

a noble type of good,

heroic womanhood."



Good film.  It shows how much work and frustration Florence Nightingale and her political supporter Sidney Herbert had to go through just to get trained women to become professional nurses.  Undoubtedly, there was a great deal of sexism involved in the resistance and opposition.  But then there was also a bit of bureaucratic reluctance to change anything in the system.  And all this opposition went on as men were dying by the hundreds in the hospitals for the wounded soldiers for lack of personnel to keep the hospitals clean, well-organized and providing a good care system for the men.  Men let other men die, while they were busy defending sexism and bigotry.  It was really a disgusting display of resistance to change.  Anna Neagle (Florence Nightingale) and Michael Wilding (Sidney Herbert) were both very good acting their parts.  Florence was presented as an obsessive workaholic, but sometimes a nations needs a few obsessive people in order to get change accepted.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 



Historical Background:


Florence Nightingale

1820 -- born in Florence, Italy.

1844 -- begins to visit hospitals.

1850 -- spends time with the nursing sisters of St. Vincent de Paul in Alexandria.

1851 -- studies at the Institute for Protestant Deaconesses in Kaiserswerth, Germany.

1854 -- she organizes a unit of 38 women nurses to serve in Scutari in the Crimean War, for which service she becomes a legend. She improves the city and military hospitals, demonstrating how an improvement in sanitary conditions could reduce the death rate in the hospitals.

1856  -- she returns to England a national heroine.

1857 publishes "Notes on Hospital Administration".

1859 -- publishes "Notes on Hospitals".

1860 -- publishes "Notes on Nursing".

1860 -- she establishes the Nightingale School and Home for training nurses at St. Thomas's Hospital, London.

1861 -- publishes "Notes on Nursing for the Laboring Classes".

1907 -- Florence receives the British Order of Merit.

1910 -- she dies.

1915 -- erection of the Crimean Monument, Waterloo Place, London in honor of Florence.

1934 -- inauguration of the Florence Nightingale International Foundation.


Return To Main Page

Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)