Nellie Bly star Josh Bowman gives a second opinion on Victorian psychiatrists

Christina Ricci as Nellie Bly and Josh Bowman as Dr. Josiah. Pic credit: Lifetime

Mental health remains an important issue in modern health care. As insufficient as things are now, they used to be much worse.

Lifetime’s new original movie Escaping the Madhouse: The Nellie Bly Story, exposed such abuses.

Josh Bowman plays a psychiatrist in the institution that reporter Nellie Bly (Christina Ricci) exposed through her undercover investigation. Though his character, Dr. Josiah, is fictional, he is representative of the kind of manipulative abuse authorities would perpetrate in the late 1800s.

“We don’t know for sure but I think there were psychiatrists in those establishments for sure,” Bowman said. “I don’t think they were directly involved within the asylum. They definitely fictionalized it a fair bit.”

Josh Bowman imagined what a Victorian psychiatrist would act like. Pic credit: Lifetime

Dr. Josiah is involved in trying to keep Bly in the institution to prevent her from publishing her findings. This could be dramatic license.

“The only thing we do know is that Nellie Bly, or Elizabeth Cochrane, went undercover to expose what was  going on there,” Bowman said. “We don’t really know the actual characters who she found.

Playing a 19th century psychiatrist, Bowman did as much research as he could.

Dr. Josiah (Josh Bowman) is trying to gaslight Nellie Bly (Christina Ricci), and movies like Gaslight didn’t even exist yet! Pic credit: Lifetime

“Obviously there’ s minimum, a little bit online,” Bowman said. “The time period was 19th century so I did some reading up on Victorian times in America because I knew what they were like in England. I wasn’t born then obviously, but I did some research for that time period.”

Some personal experience in modern day institutions helped Bowman too. 

“A family member has been in a mental health ward so I felt very close to the story,” Bowman said. “Still, you get similar characters. You’d be surprised. You do get similar characters, not in terms of the matron, but in terms of the patients.”

Let the men talk, girls. Pic credit: Lifetime

Bowman is British so his experience was with English institutions. He’s still perplexed at how the U.S. handles health care.

“I don’t know what the system’s like here, but in England,” Bowman said, “We have NHS, so we have free healthcare, National Health Services. You don’t, which is absolutely ridiculous and a shame.”

Escaping the Madhouse: The Nellie Bly Story premieres Saturday, January 19 at 8pm on Lifetime. 

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