There's really no secret to the success of this TV movie based on Jerri Nielsen's bestselling memoir. Put a fine actress in a choice role and you're more than halfway home.
Susan Sarandon is totally convincing as Nielsen, the only physician at an isolated South Pole research station when she developed breast cancer in 1999. In an uplifting story of courage and resourcefulness, she treated her own illness for several months—with vital help from coworkers—before weather conditions allowed her to be flown back to the United States.
The doctor is prickly and aloof on arrival in Antarctica, futilely trying to guard her privacy in an essentially communal situation. Then Nielsen warms to her job as she builds trusting relationships with mechanic John Penney (Aidan Devine) and other staffers. Finally, she reaches a new level of serenity, drawing on her inner strength but unabashedly leaning on her friends when necessary. Sarandon takes Nielsen through these stages in a restrained, intelligent performance that earns our sympathy without crying for it. There are a number of oblique references to the personal disappointments that may have prompted Nielsen to take a position at the faraway Pole, but the film—like its protagonist—refuses to dwell on them.
BOTTOM LINE: Sarandon shines in an inspiring drama