“I told you practicing abortions on yourself was never going to work out well…”

Melbourne in the 1960’s burbled along maintaining a sense of decency, almost pretending the hedonism of the 70’s wasn’t banging on its metaphorical door. Change was coming – people were becoming more aware of their place in the world; respect for various offices within society was being tested; and the contraceptive pill had become legal though its use frowned upon by the moral majority.

Abortions in Victoria were illegal and hundreds of women requiring the surgery were subjected to covert procedures carried out by amateurs – “backyarders” – and many suffered horrific injury or death at their hands. A Dangerous Remedy indeed.

This new telemovie from the ABC tells the story of Dr Bertrand Wainer (Jeremy Sims), a GP of Scottish extraction practicing in Melbourne and his crusade to see the laws surrounding the legality of abortion in Victoria overturned so that women truly had a safe, clean, medical choice should they require it. The dramatisation shows his journey as an activist that also exposed the corruption within the Victorian Police Force and put the horror of backyard abortions on the public agenda. Working with journalist Lionel Pugh (Mark Leonard) & Pugh’s idealistic girlfriend Jo (Maeve Dermody) Wainer puts his practice and his life on the line working as an advocate for this most personal of women’s rights after a patient dies at the hand of a backyarder.

Dr Wainer finds support from a number of doctors, though many refuse to go public for fear of their reputations and practices. He finds help in Medical Receptionist Peggy Berman (Susie Porter) who ends up caught in the middle – split between the dogged campaigner and her lover – the head of the Homicide Squad and the man in the middle of the protection racket Detective Inspector Jack Ford (William McInnes).

Sims delivers Wainer as bold, determined and single-minded – and it’s easy to see why he is regarded as one of Australia’s finest character performers. McInnes & Porter are both stunning in their roles, with Porter delivering another deliciously nuanced performance as the passionate Berman (and looking stunning as a ranga) while McInnes is as charming as ever (reminding this commentator fondly of his time in Mt Thomas). As critical as Leonard & Dermody’s characters are the plot they are sometimes lost in the action despite their engaging characterisations. The supporting cast is full of some of the best of Australia’s greying acting fraternity – though Gary Sweet can’t offer grey he does command the screen as Superintendent Matthews, trademark stare and menace included. Peter O’Brien gives good bad guy as backyarder Barry Smith and Caroline Craig gets a chance to have both her voice AND face on screen for once as the ex-wife of the crusading doctor.

The Mad Men-esque opening titles offer a great indication of what is to come – a thrilling story full of strong characters, set against a 1960’s Melbourne backdrop. Kris Wyld has given the cast a script thick with challenges they all rise to. It’s smart, engaging and well-paced.

Dangerous Remedy is a stunning story told through compelling performances. It reflects the intensity of change our nation went through during the 60’s and 70’s and the boldness of spirit the people that responsible for that change needed to display. Another telemovie success from our ABC.

Dangerous Remedy – Sun 8:30pm, ABC1.