This made-for-television movie from NBC was based on the true story of timid housewife Francine Hughes of Danville, Michigan, who was accused of murdering her ex-husband on 9 March 1977. She was ultimately found not guilty by reason of temporary insanity, and her case created a legal precedent for the handling of domestic violence cases in the future.
Farrah Fawcett gives one of her best performances as the abused and battered Francine who has had enough of her ex-husband Mickey (Paul Le Mat) beating her up for 14 years. After he rapes her one night and falls asleep in a drunken stupor, Francine loads her children into the car, pours gasoline around the bed and lights a match, then drives to the sheriff’s office and confesses.
Her court-appointed attorney Aryon Greydanus (Richard Masur), warns her that unless she tells her side of the story, she will likely be sent to jail for life. As Francine begins, we meet Mickey in flashback at a dance in 1963.
Francine isn’t sure how she feels about Mickey and his possessiveness, but she is assured by her girlfriend that this is a sign of his love.
Mickey’s violence begins with a slap and an apology, but it escalates until Francine leaves him and returns home.
But her mother (Dixie Wade) persuades her to go back to Mickey, saying, “You make a hard bed, you lay in it. It’s your duty to stand by him”. That attitude confronts Francine throughout the story – the policemen called to stop a beating don’t actually see a beating, even though they see the cuts and bruises, they don’t arrest Mickey.
After their divorce, Mickey tells Francine, “A thousand divorces can’t change anything. You’re mine”.
When he refuses to leave their home and continues to terrorise her and the children, Francine turns to the welfare office for help. She points out that it’s against the law for a family to receive welfare if the father is on the premises, so why can’t the welfare office force Mickey to leave?
She learns that all welfare officials can do is prosecute her for having a man in the house when she is receiving welfare.
The Burning Bed covers the 14-year relationship between Francine and Mickey and the trial following his death.
It was Farrah Fawcett‘s idea to make the movie. All three networks originally turned her down because they felt people weren’t ready for that kind of violence on television or the reality of the situation. After her success in the off-Broadway play Extremities (a story about rape), NBC agreed to make The Burning Bed.
The broadcast of the movie on Monday 8 October 1984 marked the start of Domestic Violence Awareness Week,
Paul Le Mat
James T. Callahan
Christy age 12
Jimmy age 10
Christy age 6
Jimmy Age 4
Dixie K. Wade
Elizabeth Lyn Fraser
Fred D. Scott
Sonny Carl Davis