Martin Carr reviews Ratched…
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is a landmark film. Adapted from the novel by Sixties revolutionary Ken Kesey it fell in amongst a slew of Jack Nicholson films, which included The Last Detail, Chinatown and The Shining. Stark in its depiction of psychiatric institutions the film possesses a realism that defines Seventies cinema. Populated with a host of memorable character actors the slow burn narrative unfolds casually, grounded by a multitude of powerful performances.
Column inches, innumerable articles and countless top ten lists have been compiled around R P McMurphy. Portrayed by Kirk Douglas on stage and Jack Nicholson on screen, it remains a rambunctious and unruly performance tempered by nuance which bares repeat viewing. However his starched counterpart Nurse Ratched gets less time on the playing field. She is a stone cold on screen presence who rules through silence, dictates through decorum and remains pivotal to Cuckoo’s Nest as a whole. Definitive discussions directly involving Louise Fletcher on the subject of her contribution are rare, even if Nicholson is gracious, eloquent and effusive in his admiration of her portrayal. However it is from this source that creator Evan Romansky drew inspiration for his Netflix series Ratched. An origin story which explores her past prior to that chilling entrance into the Milos Foreman film.
Produced in part by Ryan Murphy famed for American Horror Story this series is set in 1947 and oozes decadence. Sarah Paulson is manicured, coiffured and statuesque in a title role which trades on film noir mystique. As Mildred she is demure in her ability to manipulate, delicate in her dedication to advancement and ruthless when it comes to straight talking home truths. Aided in no small measure by a cast which includes Sharon Stone, Corey Stoll and Judy Davis, this series gives off a femme fatale Double Indemnity vibe from the outset.
Vincent D’Onofrio and Jon Jon Brionnes as Doctor Richard Hanover and Governor George Wilburn respectively bring further gravitas. Beyond the gruesome medical procedures, internal politics and inherent Chinatown vibe Ratched is pure period piece. Personal relationships, sexual taboos and social deviancy work in opposition to Paulson’s performance. Sharon Stone and Corey Stoll do affluent widow and scuzzy private dick to perfection, while the toxic chemistry between Paulson and Davis adds further interest.
At its core Ratched is a murder mystery with breadcrumbs peppered throughout inviting curiosity and fanning intrigue. With alumni from American Horror Story involved there are moments where a strong stomach is required, but character comes ahead of shock tactics at every turn. Underpinned by some period specific social commentary concerning individual identity, Ratched feels authentically vintage yet broad in scope. Production design is all clean lines and professional exterior, whilst any degradation is kept beneath a thick glaze of conspicuous veneer.
This noir pastiche goes some way to demystifying the enigma of a character that may well be cinema’s most vile villainess. Borderline sociopath, clinically qualified and a keeper of secrets Ratched will only increase the mystique. A glacial demeanour cloaked beneath the guise of cool detachment, Mildred speaks not only to our harmonious side reserved for family and friends, but something inherently darker we don’t talk about at parties.