The Truth, Fiction, and Outrage in Netflix’s ‘The Good Nurse’

Debuting on Netflix, no stranger to racy true crime stories The good nurse could easily have been a frighteningly sharp true crime thriller. But instead of getting into the story of the serial killer Charles Cullen, who may have killed hundreds of hospital patients in New Jersey between the late 80s and early 2000s while working as a nurse, Scottish screenwriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns focused on the unsung hero of the story: Cullen’s associates, Amy Loughren.

“I suggested Amy’s story to them, not Charlie’s,” says Wilson-Cairns of her first meeting with production company Protozoa Pictures. “I banged it on for months and eventually weeded out the competition.” When Tobias Lindholm, the director’s cleverly restrained thriller pleases A war and A kidnappingcame on board, their stylistic and thematic priorities for the project, which favored realism over sensationalism, fully aligned.

The good nurse is Wilson-Cairns’ first credit as a writer after two high-profile collaborations: first her Oscar-nominated work with Sam Mendes on 1917 and then a team up with Edgar Wright for last year Last night in Soho. But her script for The good nurse was actually her first paid job as a screenwriter, which she began around the same time she started as a staff writer for the 2016 series dime novel. Below, the author breaks down the vision she led to the good nurse, what stars Eddie Redmayne and Jessica Chastain and opens in theaters on October 19 ahead of a Netflix debut on October 26.

A hero emerges

Wilson-Cairns trip with The good nurse started when her agent handed her over Karl Graber‘s immaculately researched book on Cullen’s murder spree that spanned 16 years. Amy Loughren, who worked with Cullen for only about six months, does not appear until the last third of the book.

But to Wilson-Cairns, The good nurse still had the duty of honoring the heroic Amy’s point of view. “Up until the book, she was a confidential informant and no one knew she existed,” she explains. “My mother is also a working-class single mother. I know these women are not often seen as heroes. But Amy is the catalyst. She had the courage to do something. She didn’t bury her head in the sand, even though everything was at stake for her. For me it was really profound and undeniable the Story.”

Wilson-Cairns was so committed to understanding the everyday lives of people like Amy that she spent two weeks accompanying nurses working night shifts in a Connecticut burns unit. Then one weekend she met the real Amy. “I can’t grasp [everything] you did that I can’t grasp all the complexities of you. But I’ll try to tell your story as best as I can,” she recalls telling Loughren. “She let me stumble through, understand her life, call her and ask [questions]. And she is still a very good friend of mine to this day.”

Humanity as an antidote to inexplicable evil

Wilson-Cairns had an overarching philosophy: Don’t make things lewd. Don’t do what she calls “sexy violence.” It was important to her to get people to see the humanity of the characters. And it wasn’t just about Cullen’s victims. Mentioned only marginally in the book, Amy’s heart condition became a central concern for Wilson-Cairns. “She had serious heart problems and thought she was going to die. Charles Cullen basically became her nurse [during all that],” she explains. This push-pull allowed her to expand the duo’s friendship and emphasized what was at stake for Amy as someone living in constant fear of what would happen to her daughters if they died or would lose her job.

That also reinforced the heartbreaking confession scene in the film’s final act, where Amy’s tenderness finally seems to break Cullen’s facade. It was originally a longer scene, but the team refined it through rehearsals. “It became that moment where [you realize] The only way to truly defeat evil is through humanity,” says Wilson-Cairns. “Amy told me she did it and how she got him to confess. She remembered that he was human, he was her friend. [It was] about reaching out to someone, remembering the sensitive underside of them and activating them. “Remember you’ve been good to me. How can you help me here now? How can you do the right thing?’ Ultimately, that’s how Amy killed the monster.”

Truth vs Fiction

“One thing [to remember] when you’re adapting true stories: there’s no way to make the film absolute truth because it’s coming from multiple perspectives,” says the screenwriter. “It can never be a real document; it should never be filed in court.” The Truth, Fiction, and Outrage in Netflix’s ‘The Good Nurse’

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