Escaping the Madhouse: The Nellie Bly Story (2019 Lifetime)

Escaping the Madhouse: The Nellie Bly Story

Stars: Christina Ricci, Judith Light and Josh Bowman

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Synopsis (via Lifetime)

A young journalist looks behind the curtain of a nearby mental hospital, only to uncover the grim and gruesome acts they bestow upon their “patients”.


New York 1887, Nellie Brown is found wandering the streets of New York. She has complete amnesia and no one has claimed her. Men keep coming by to shed light on who she is but really they end up insulting her and being rude as hell. Dr. Josiah is a nice handsome doctor and he is dedicated to helping Nellie, and maybe more. She is close to a breakthrough because she is having sexy flashbacks of herself in bed with a shirtless man. (Scandalous!)

Judith Light runs the insane asylum. She has a bird and serious wig going on. Judith Light wastes no time getting Nellie checked back in and she is not a fan of Dr. Josiah. She thinks he isn’t a real doctor, because therapy was not a thing back in the day, apparently. Nellie is ordered to bring in the new patients.

Nellie and the other workers give the new patients “bath time” which is cold water and then eating a meal at the cafeteria. While praying before they eat, we learn that Judith Light and her workers are throwing a ball for the patients. The patients don’t care about having a ball they all just want to get out. One of the new patients is a Hollister. (One of the first families in New York.) this triggers another memory for Nellie.

Nellie tells Dr. Josiah all the terrible things that have happened in the asylum. She tells him that she is not insane, and then immediately asks if she is crazy… which seems pretty crazy to me! Dr. Josiah keeps working with her to have a break through with her memory loss. He unlocks her shackles to earn her trust. (Yes, she is shackled 24/7.) Unshackled they play snowball baseball. (I’m seriously waiting for the Christmas Tree lighting. If this was a Hallmark movie it would happen.) Nellie tells him about a rocking chair and he is shocked no one can use it because it belongs to Judith Light. He goes right to the asylum and has the Hollister patient sit in the chair. All the girls get jealous and fight over the chair. Judith Light shows up and shuts down the fighting over the rocking chair. This distracts the staff members enough to let Nellie do some snooping.

Nellie finds a ducky blanket for Hollister and a journal that was hers. One of the staff members catches her and instead of getting Nellie in trouble she tells her that she is a famous writer and will have a parade when she is released. The staff member helps Nellis hide from Judith Light.

Back at Dr. Josiah’s office, Nellie shows him her journal and tells him that she doesn’t remember writing it but know it is hers. He seems unfazed and tells her to leave the journal with him. (Shady!) She begs him to talk to Judith Light and he seems like he doesn’t need/want to, could he be in on this?

Judith Light doesn’t need to talk to anyone because she knows everything. In line up Judith Light finds the ducky blanket with Hollister. Nellie speaks up and tells her that she stole the ducky blanket. Judith Light accuses Nellie of having feelings for Dr. Josiah, she tells him her is married, and calls Nellie a whore, basically.

Judith Light straps Nellie down and puts leeches on her VaJayJay? (To suck the lust right out of her.) Then she goes through a monologue about her past. She was abandoned by her parents when she was five. She then sings songs and it is just creepy AF.

Dr. Josiah comes to the asylum because Nellie didn’t show up for their normal session. He asks her if something is wrong, and she just wants to get away from him so she doesn’t get more letches. Nellie has another montage flashback of things she is starting to remember.  

After an outcry in the dining hall, Judith Light decides that they all have lice and is about to shave their heads when Dr. Josiah comes to put a stop to it. He suggests to use Kerosene instead.The staff are more than happy to douse them in kerosene while Judith Light smokes a pipe. Hollister grabs the pipe argues with Judith Light and tells everyone that she is the queen of new york as she lights herself on fire and dies. (No one moves to help put out the flames.)

Nellie is hell bent on getting out and begs the staff member to help her like she did before. The asylum is on Blackwell Island and the only way on of off is the ferry, which is guarded.  

Dr. Josiah takes a meeting with a man (Barthalmu) who turns out to know Nellie Brown and is her husband? He is looking for Nellie Bly. He explains the traits that would identify Nellie and Dr. Josiah lies. He tells him that Nellie isn’t at the asylum and sends him on his way. Nellie sees him leaving and runs after him, she remembers Bat and freaks out. When she confronts Dr. Josiah he tells her that she has feelings from him and us projecting them on strangers.

It’s time for the ball, which is a bunch of mentally ill or non english speaking women immigrants dancing with one another. Except for Nellie who dances with Dr.Josiah and the staff members watch on disapprovingly. While they are dancing Nellie has some more flashbacks.

Nurse Fenton comes through and arranges for her brother to get them off the island. Nellie pretends that she has to use the Loo and they grab their lanterns. They run through the hallways and woods to get to the shore. However, no boat is waiting for them. It is a set up and Judith Light is behind it and Nurse Fenton is a really messed up friend.

Nellie’s flashback are really starting to piece things together. Turns out she was undercover and convinced a newspaper to publish her story for Pulitzer. She also remembers what Judith Light did to her. She especially drowned her until her lost her memory. Nellie tells Judith Light that she knows everything and will write a story about the horrible things she has done. Judith Light wont let that happen and starts dunking her in a cage again. Best line of the movie is uttered here as she lowers Nellie down. “Bye Bye Nellie Bly”

Bat comes to her rescue just in time, he figures everything out and pulls up the cage. Nellie vows to tell the girls their story. AS she is leaving one of the girls even yells,  “Give them hell, Nellie.” As she is leaving we find out that she has only been there for 10 days.

That is exactly what she does. The police come for Judith Light, her bird, and her wig. They also get Dr. Josiah, but gurl! Nellie’ write a book Ten Day in a Madhouse and was the world’s first celebrity journalist.

Side Note

Josh Bowman’s British accent, haha. Not good.

Read more about the Nellie Bly, the actual person here.

Overall rating

🔪🔪🔪🔪   (4 Knives)

🍷🍷(2  glasses of wine required)

*Photo Credit: © 2019 Lifetime


  1. This movie wasn’t bad, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how most of it was made up for the movie. The real story was much less dramatic, but still interesting. I also thought Josh Bowman’s accent was off, maybe he was trying to sound like he was from another era and that’s what threw him off.

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