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The Upcoming Netflix Historical Drama To Watch After Bridgerton

Whether it's a heartwarming showcase of love and family like The Blind Side or something more harrowing like the real case depicted in Zodiac, media based on a true story always hits the spot. In just 2020, some of Netflix's biggest original films focused on historical stories, like Mankabout screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz who wrote Citizen Kane, and The Trial of the Chicago 7, based on the story of seven Vietnam War protestors who were put on trial for inciting a riot at the Democratic National Convention in 1968.

The film Radium Girls, co-directed by Lydia Dean Pilcher and Ginny Mohler, is based on the true story of young women in the 1920s who fought against their employer after they knowingly poisoned them with damaging radium. The story was originally crafted into a 2017 bestselling nonfiction book, The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women by Kate Moore.

For people who are drawn in by period dramas like Bridgerton or The Crown, Radium Girls is an upcoming must-watch movie on Netflix, depicting the dark yet encouraging story of women fighting back against the system.

Radium Girls tells the true story of a group of women who take their employers to court for knowingly poisoning them

Based on an intense true story, Radium Girls stars Joey King, who many will recognize from her Emmy-nominated performance in another docudrama project; she played Gypsy Rose Blanchard in The Act. In Radium Girls, King plays Bessie, while Abby Quinn plays her sister Josephine, who both work at a factory painting the dials of watches with radium, used because it glowed in the dark. All the women are taught to constantly lick the tip of their paintbrush to ensure the most precise writing style, and are told that the paint is harmless. If anything, it's good for you. 

Radium Girls is a dramatization of true events, but there's really not much the movie needs to add to make it intense and heartbreaking. The sisters, Bessie and Josephine, initially believe that they've found the perfect job painting watch faces at the factory. It pays well, they make some friends, and Josephine excels at it. Then everything changes when Josephine gets sick with a strange illness affecting her teeth and jaw. When some of their coworkers experience the same sickness, and worse, Bessie makes it her mission to take down the company that is knowingly poisoning these women. While it appears that the characters in the film are fictional, it's possible that King and Quinn's characters are based on Quinta McDonald and Albina Larice, two sisters who were part of the following suit against the company (via Roadtrippers Magazine).

The true story of the Radium Girls and their battle against United States Radium

According to Damn Interesting, the employer, United States Radium Corporation, and the scientists working with the radium were well aware of the danger of working with an element said to be "approximately one million times more active than uranium." When women began to experience issues with their teeth and jaw, doctors quickly found the common connection at the factories. One woman named Grace Fryer worked tirelessly to find a lawyer that wasn't in United States Radium's pocket, and eventually she did. She and four other women took the company to court in 1927.

The effects of the radium exposure were devastating. In an appearance in court, Fryer couldn't walk, had lost all her teeth, and needed a back brace to even sit up. The case got a lot of media coverage and led to the establishment of labor safety standards. A following case from one of the company's other factories forced them to pay damages to all of the victims. United States Radium tried to appeal all the way to the Supreme Court, who wouldn't take the case. Lower courts ruled in favor of the women eight times (via Library of Congress).

Fair warning: Radium Girls definitely doesn't have the comedy and sexiness of Bridgerton, though the movie features amazing period costuming and production design, and it focuses on the teamwork and love between the sisters and the other women fighting their employer. It's also a great watch for fans of 2019's Chernobyl, with both exploring the devastating effects of radiation throughout history, and how people fought back. The movie will be available to watch on Netflix on January 16, 2021.