While all true stories are interesting in one way or another, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks adds another dimension with an enigma. Leaving the viewer with questions and a need to find out more, the angel that brought a chance for life to multitudes has been nearly absent from historical significance. Based on the book by Rebecca Skloot that has been turned into this movie, it’s an epiphany that gets much needed fresh air. The film is being released on Blu-ray/DVD this week.
Raising children during a world war may have been difficult enough for Henrietta Lacks (Renée Elise Goldsberry), but finding out that she had cervical cancer made the future of the family even more problematic. Yet Henrietta has an unknown destiny that would make the world a better place. Her cells were the breakthrough for those who would have to face diseases such as Polio, Influenza, Cancer, Parkinson’s disease and even the AIDS virus. But, the Lacks family, although proud of their heritage, were none the richer for it.
It was 1951 when Henrietta was diagnosed with cervical cancer and like most Black patients that could not afford medical care at that time, she was put in a ward at John’s Hopkins. By August of that year she died, but not before a biopsy was taken from her that lead to the first known “immortal” cell dubbed HeLa after parts of her first and last name. From this microscopic find, the people of the world became the beneficiary of cures from some of the most infamous illnesses.
But’s this is only part of the story as the movie and book give a heartfelt and amazing account of this unsung hero. Director George C. Wolf (Nights in Rodanthe) presents Rebecca Skloot’s book in dramatic fashion showing how the author decided to write the story of Henrietta years earlier while attending community college. She finally gets a chance to follow through many years later and the film tells all.
Contacting family Doctor Patillo, he tells Rebecca (Rose Byrne) to get in touch with family members, especially Deborah Lacks (Oprah Winfrey). Obsessed with wanting to know about Henrietta, Skloot tries to convince Deborah and some of the other family members that their mother needs to be recognized for her cells. In an earnest and forthright way Wolf reveals the love and devotion by the children of Henrietta who were not completely aware of their mother’s importance in medicine.
The acting by Oprah Winfrey and Rose Byrne gets very exciting as they work to bring their characters to life. Winfrey as the stubborn and clever Deborah wants to make sure Skloot isn’t writing the story for her own monetary gain. While Byrne in a convincing performance, has to kowtow to Henrietta’s daughter to achieve the selfless satisfaction of delivering the true story to the public.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks has been rated TV-MA for adult material and some language. Much like other stories getting filmed, like Hidden Figures, this one has all the earmarking’s of an award winner.
FINAL ANALYSIS: A nicely delivered eye opener of a true story.(3.5 out of 5 stars)
Specifications and additional video information:
Cast: Oprah Winfrey, Rose Byrne, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Reg E. Cathey, John Beasley, Rocky Carroll, Courtney B. Vance, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Leslie Uggams, Reed Birney Director: George C. Wolf . TV Rating: TV-MA. Genre: Drama. Running Time: 1 hr. 32 min. Video Release Date: September 5, 2017. Original HBO Release Date: April 22, 2017. Language: English (changeable to French or Spanish). Reviewed Format: DVD (also available in Blu-ray). Audio: Digital 5.1. Video: Widescreen, Aspect Ratio 1.78:1. Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish. Number of Discs: 1 Disc + Digital HD Ultraviolet download. Distributed by: HBO