When Terry Wiles was complimented on his acting performance in "On Giant's Shoulders," to be aired tonight at 10 on Channel 26, here's how he replied:
"Well, who'd they be able to get to play me anyhow?"
Fair enough, considering Terry Wiles has no arms or legs, is blind in one eye and has only flipper-like appendages for feet.
Nevertheless, he gives an extraordinary and moving performance in this dramatization of several years in his 18-year-old life, the years he met and captivated his adoptive parents, Len and Sara Wiles, the agonizing years when it seemed his adoption would never be permitted. When it seemed he would be victim forever of British philosophy that forced him into even more crippling artificial legs that forbade him to use the finger-like projections on his misshapen feet, forcing him instead to write by holding a pencil in his teeth. These were the things that stripped him of dignity. But made him "look" better to others.
Terry Wiles' mother had taken the tranquilizing drug thalidomide during her pregnancy, and Terry was one of an estimated 5,000 to 8,000 so-called thalidomide babies born before the drug was abandoned. It was never marketed in the United States. The story of Terry Wiles was brought to light by a reporter for the London Times whose case-by-case series helped provide the basis for an eventual financial settlement to the victims. This 90-minute BBC broadcast is based on the book that grew out of the newspaper articles.
The elder Wiles are played by Bryan Pringle and Judi Dench whose developing relationship with the handicapped boy, at once frightened and captivating, undisciplined, yet irresistible, is portrayed with sensitivity and panache.
"On Giant's Shoulders" is no tear jerker. But it will make you cry.