A House on Fire (2021 Lifetime)
Synopsis (via Lifetime)
Inspired by the New York Times bestseller by prestigious and prolific true crime writer Ann Rule, this is the story of Debora Green, a brilliant doctor with a genius IQ who appeared to be living the American dream: her own medical practice, marriage to a handsome star doctor, three loving children and a beautiful home in an affluent Kansas City suburb. However, behind the curtain is a rocky marriage that includes Deb’s difficult bedside manner, her inability to get along with other doctors, abuse of pills and alcohol, major envy of her husband’s successful medical career and his easy social manner. Tragically, these problems masked her underlying mental illness, which finally led to the 1995 catastrophic fire of their beautiful home and the death of their only son and youngest daughter. Deb pleads no contest to charges of arson and murder. She is currently serving a 30- year prison sentence. (2021)
The movie begins with a house on fire, as the title promised. The title didn’t mention that Stephanie March from Law & Order is playing Deb and that Deb’s whole family burned alive in flames.
Flash to years earlier. Deb is a doctor who scrapbooks. (Maybe it is a vision board. Did Deb invent The Secret?) A co-worker named Mike asks her out on a date, and she reluctantly agrees. Deb is competitive and takes him out on a run; then they drink beers in the park while talking about their futures.
They get married and appear to have a perfect life. As the years go by, the spark fades. They are both busy raising their kids, Tim and Kelly. The movie flashes to six months before the fire. While rushing around, Deb trips and injures her wrist. She gets passed up for her partner due to her lack of bedside manner and put on a “work from home” schedule. A colleague named Jim prescribes her pain meds. Deb (of course) gets addicted to them and starts prescribing them to herself.
Mike starts to notice this wife is slurring her words and acting irrationally. He asks another female doctor, Celeste, about mental health and work/life balance at a school function. Deb sees them talking and thinks he is flirting. She is insulted when he tries to help Deb. Then she is fired from her job for not passing boards. (She doesn’t tell Mike.)
Mike and Celeste continue to meet and talk about Deb potentially be bipolar. They start having an affair.
A co-worker tells Mike about Deb getting suspended from work. He goes home and searches for pills, finding them in the children’s toys. He calls her an addict, liar, drugie. Mike gives her an ultimatum. She either gets off the drugs and retires, or he will leave her.
Deb spirals into a deep depression and is sure that Mike and Celeste are having an affair. Mike takes his family to view a beautiful new house but has second thoughts when Deb refuses therapy. The couple fight in front of the kids causing them to take sides. Deb sets the house on fire to ensure she gets a new one. (It is kind of genius!) Her vision board has become a reality, It all comes crashing down when Deb catches Mike having an affair. Deb drowns her sorrows with booze and turns the kids against Mike. Tim kicks his dad out of the house and punches him in the face.
The movie flashes to the post-fire Detectives questioning Deb and Mike. They suspect the son, Tim, of starting the fire. Then they ask for clothing and hair samples.
Back to pre-fire, a domestic dispute gets so bad that the authorities are called. Deb is dragged away in front of her kids and is put into an institution. The therapist tells Deb that she needs to take care of her mental health in a well-written and straightforward monologue. Deb agrees to treatment because she will do anything for her kids.
Deb comes back to her family, and Mike falls deathly ill and is admitted into the hospital. Deb has been poisoning him with castor beans. When Deb brings Mike some soup, she is enraged to see Celeste there. They scream at one another some more. Their relationship is volatile. Mike tells Deb that he is going to take the kids when they divorce because he thinks she is certifiably crazy.
After downing some vodka, Deb destroys her vision board/scrapbook and swallows a handful of the castor beans. Then she sets the house on fire with her kids inside. They do not make it out alive.
After questioning Deb tells Mike that he should have been home where he belonged. He gives her some cash and slams the door in her face. Deb is left with no one. She is currently serving two concurrent 40 year sentences for the murder of her children.
Minority Report: Nurse, Doctor, Police Officer, Receptionist, Therapist,
Stephanie March is great and should do more Lifetime movies.
Read more about the true story here: The real Deborah Green
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