"Glory Enough for All" is such a singularly strong television drama that you hesitate to report that it's about the discovery of insulin, lest heads start to nod.
This Canadian-produced, true-life, medical research adventure story set in the 1920s is a "Masterpiece Theatre" plum. The two 90-minute parts (Sunday at 9 p.m. on Channels 28 and 15, 8 p.m. on Channels 50 and 24; concluding Nov. 12) will deeply touch anyone who has had to confront diabetes. More broadly, the production implicitly signals contemporary topics ranging from AIDS to animal medical research to Nobel Prize squabbling.
The parallels are all there in material rich in period detail and, particularly, the irascible performance of Canadian actor R. H. Thomson. He stars as later-Nobel winner Dr. Frederick Banting, whom we meet as a World War I front-line surgeon sewing doughboys together, a "MASH"-like scene that establishes his gritty texture.
Once home, this irascible, socially awkward and almost-failed doctor, dumped by his fiancee, pitches his bloodied tent in a primitive University of Toronto lab. There, in the hot summer of 1921, swatting flies and going through 91 dogs whose carcasses pile up, he and his young colleague (an engaging performance by Robert Wisen) inject an experimental extract into a dog with a diabetic pancreas. The moment becomes a medical milestone.
Finally, once the insulin is purified for humans and a cure is out there, victims are turned down because there's not enough of it. At the same time, petty jealousies and politics among rival doctors who want the credit for the breakthrough consume an egotistical establishment.
The bitterness and backbiting is topped off when the Nobel Prize Committee commits a gross miscarriage of honor. Banting wins but refuses to go to Stockholm to collect his prize because his Nobel co-winner and Banting's longtime nemesis at the University of Toronto, Dr. J.J.R McLeod (John Woodvine), didn't earn the honor. (Years later, in 1950, the Noble people rectified the mistake and awarded the co-prize for discovering insulin to Banting's colleague, Charles Best.)
As "Masterpiece Theatre" host Alistair Cook cautions at the top of the show, "Rarely is there a single hero (in medical discoveries)." And rarely does medical history make such telling drama. The production was directed by Eric Till and written by Grahame Woods.