TELEVISION

Maternal damnation

A TV movie re-creates a chilling scandal

JOE CHIDLEY January 9 1995
TELEVISION

Maternal damnation

A TV movie re-creates a chilling scandal

JOE CHIDLEY January 9 1995

Maternal damnation

TELEVISION

A TV movie re-creates a chilling scandal

JOE CHIDLEY

If ever a true story seemed a natural for the lurid style of made-for-TV movies, it is the tale of Lila Young. Near Halifax during the 1930s and 1940s, Young, a midwife by training, along with her chiropractor husband, William, operated the Ideal Maternity Home, a refuge for unwed mothers that—despite its name—more closely resembled a house of horrors than a house of charity. Before it was shut down in 1947, the couple amassed a small fortune by illegally selling the babies of their unfortunate clients to the highest bidders. The children that Young could not sell, because of illness or birth defect, were deprived of adequate medical care or basic nutrition. And when they died, Young had them buried in her yard, using wooden dairy boxes as small coffins. Such is the gruesome subject matter of But-

BUTTERBOX BABIES

Directed by Don McBrearty (Jan. 8,8p.m., CBC TV)

terbox Babies, a CBC TV movie based on the book by Bette Cahill. Created by Toronto-based Sullivan Entertainment (Road to Avonlea), the film is a cut above standard movie-of-the-week fare. It avoids wallowing in the misery of the victims and instead focuses on the character of the villain. The result is a fascinating examination of a woman who descends into a hell of ambition, pride and greed while maintaining the best of intentions.

Heading a uniformly fine Canadian cast, Susan Clark creates a complex portrayal of Lila Young, making her almost likable—at least in the beginning. Armed with fundamentalist Christian beliefs and an acid tongue, Young is a kind of protofeminist, taking on a hypocritical society that would rather ignore illegitimacy and striking out against a male-dominated medical establishment. But as a provincial health inspector, played with chain-smoking cynicism by Michael Riley, uncovers the horrors taking

place behind the Ideal Maternity Home’s whitewashed walls, Young is gradually revealed as a wolf in crusader’s clothing.

If Butterbox Babies has a fault, it lies in its failure to more fully present the extent of her abuse. But such tact also points to the movie’s central strength. By concentrating on the character rather than the crimes, Butterbox Babies offers a non-sensationalized treatment of a sensational scandal—and a chilling exploration of the nature of evil.