Netflix Announces Production of “Joy”

Film Tribute to Pioneers Behind the First IVF Baby and Bourn Hall Clinic

Netflix has announced the commencement of production on “Joy,” an inspiring film that goes beyond scientific milestones to uncover the remarkable human journey behind the birth of the world’s first in vitro fertilisation (IVF) baby, Louise Joy Brown.

Set against the backdrop of the late 1960s to 1970s, “Joy” sheds light on the relentless determination and innovative minds that defied societal norms, religious constraints, media scrutiny, and the medical establishment to rewrite the narrative of infertility.

This extraordinary tale revolves around the dynamic trio of Jean Purdy, a trailblazing nurse, scientist Robert Edwards and gynaecologist Patrick Steptoe. Their unwavering commitment and ground-breaking efforts culminated in the birth of the world’s first ‘test tube baby’– Louise Brown, who was born on 25 July 1978.

Jean Purdy, whose contribution often goes unsung, stood alongside Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe, contributing significantly to the birth of IVF and transforming the field of reproductive medicine.-

Stellar cast and creative team

The film “Joy” boasts an impressive cast, with Thomasin McKenzie playing the role of Jean Purdy, the unsung laboratory assistant whose dedication and vision played a pivotal role. Bill Nighy takes on the role of Patrick Steptoe, the pioneering obstetrician and gynaecologist. Meanwhile, James Norton portrays Dr Robert Edwards, the British scientist awarded the Nobel Prize in 2010 after a lifetime’s dedication to IVF.

Directed by BAFTA-nominated and Emmy-winning Ben Taylor, known for his work on “Sex Education” and “Catastrophe,” the film features a screenplay by the acclaimed BAFTA, Tony, and Emmy award-winning screenwriter and playwright, Jack Thorne, and his wife, Rachel Mason.

“Joy” is produced by Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey of Wildgaze, known for their work on Oscar-nominated films like “Brooklyn” and “An Education.” The film’s executive producer is Cameron McCracken for Pathe, whose credits include Oscar-winning films like “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Judy.”

Ben Taylor, the director, said, “As the proud father to two boys only made possible by IVF, this is a story extremely close to my heart. It’s an honour to bring to life the journey of this heroic trio, whose world-changing work was only achieved in the face of unimaginable opposition.”

Jack Thorne added, “It took Rachel and I seven rounds of IVF to have Elliott, so when the opportunity came to tell the story of the pioneers, I jumped at the chance. The more we discovered, the more amazed we were, at the audacity of the science and the lack of support from the scientific community. It is an incredible story.”

Co-founding the world’s first fertility clinic

Following their success with Louise in 1978 and the first IVF baby boy, Alastair MacDonald, born in January 1979, the pioneering team established the world’s first IVF clinic at Bourn Hall, Cambridge in 1980.

Bob, Jean, Patrick at Bourn Hall feat
Bob, Jean, Patrick at Bourn Hall

Their story is a testament to the profound impact of dedicated individuals who have the power to shape history itself. Today, their legacy continues to offer hope to countless individuals and couples seeking to build their families.

Dr. Thanos Papathanasiou, CEO and Medical Director of Bourn Hall, reflects, “The unwavering commitment that propelled Steptoe, Edwards, and Purdy was their profound desire to fulfil the dreams of couples to have their own children. This same commitment continues to drive us today. We still have a small number of our team that worked under our pioneering founders, and it is both a privilege and an honour to carry forward their legacy”.

Providing hope for infertility

Lesley Brown was one of many women who found their way to the Dr Kershaw’s Hospital near Oldham in the hope that work by Steptoe, Edwards and Purdy would result in a treatment for infertility.

She and her husband John had spent nine years trying for a baby when they signed up for the innovative treatment.

John and Lesley Brown, parents of Louise. Photo courtesy of Martin Powell/the Brown family album.
John and Lesley Brown, parents of Louise. (Photo courtesy of Martin Powell/the Brown family album.)

Lesley was among 282 women who tried the then experimental procedure. Out of 457 attempts to recover eggs, fertilization was achieved in only 165 cycles.  Embryos were replaced in 112 of these cycles, with two successful live births – Louise and Alastair.

Lesley kept forever the letter from Robert Edwards that gave her the good news. “Just a short note to let you know that the early results on your blood and urine are very encouraging and indicate that you might be in early pregnancy. So please take things quietly – no skiing, climbing or anything too strenuous including Xmas shopping!”

“Joy” promises to be a deeply moving and inspiring experience, shining a light on the individuals who reshaped the landscape of fertility treatment, went on to found our clinic and whose work provides hope today for the millions of couples struggling to conceive – we at Bourn Hall can’t wait to watch it!


(Main image: L to R James Norton, Bill Nighy and Thomasin Mackenzie in Joy (Credit: Netflix))

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