Heaven and Earth

// 22 September 2008

According to The Guardian, production is to start next year on a film about the life of James Barry.

Among Barry’s many accomplishments was the first successful caesarean section in which both mother and child survived the operation. Ze also insisted on female attendants for female patients. In the Crimea ze encountered Florence Nightingale, who later described hir as the ‘most hardened creature I ever met’. After the war, ze was appointed to Canada as Inspector General of Hospitals, where ze caught bronchitis and had to retire. Ze died in London in 1865.

Although Barry lived hir adult life as a man, it is believed that ze was born female and chose to live as a man so that ze might be accepted as a university student and be able to pursue hir chosen career as a surgeon. If so, then it would seem that Barry was the first British woman to become a qualified medical doctor. It has also been suggested that Barry was intersexed. (Via).

The film, Heaven and Earth, will be shot in the UK and the surgeon is to be played by Natascha McElhone. The Guardian adds that:

[…] McElhone’s portrayal of the part will have great personal resonance because of the work of her late husband [Martin Kelly], who died this year at the age of 43. Kelly, who performed reconstructive plastic surgery in London hospitals, also helped to set up the international charity Facing The World and developed a revolutionary new balm, called Heal Gel, for treating scars and burns.

Barry’s life story has inspired a biography and a novel, as well as at least one play and a planned opera libretto, but Heaven and Earth is the first film to tackle hir career in medicine.

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