A touching tale about mature love

October 19, 1990|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

"The Love She Sought" is one of those splendid made-for-TV movies where almost everything -- writing, directing, acting and photography -- comes together to capture a slice of the human heart.

Angela Lansbury heads a cast that includes Denholm Elliott and Robert Prosky. Joseph Sargent, who directed "Love Is Never Silent," directs. Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman, who wrote "An Early Frost," wrote and produced.

That's a lot of talent. And all are on their games -- or, in the case of Elliott and Lansbury, even better than that -- in this film, which airs at 8 p.m. Sunday on WMAR-TV (Channel 2).

Lansbury plays Agatha McGee, a Minnesota schoolteacher, who has taught at the same Catholic grade school for more than 40 years. She's single and lives alone.

As Ms. McGee nears retirement, she be comes more and more involved in a "pen pal" relationship with a man in Ireland, James O'Hannon (Elliott). As a retirement gift, she is given a ticket to Ireland and the chance to meet the man who has won her heart with his written words. She meets O'Hannon and is shocked by what she discovers. To say more would be to give away too much of the story.

This is a made-for-TV movie with the texture and richness of a well-made feature film. An audiocassette of just the portions of the correspondence between O'Hannon and Ms. McGee that are read in voice-over would do a better job of telling the story of a mature love than most entire television movies.

There are touching scenes filmed beautifully. One ends with O'Hannon running away from a confused and troubled McGee, leaving her standing alone on a bridge in Dublin on a gray-gray drizzly day. She seems very old as that scene ends.

Another scene involves their first meeting at dinner in a Dublin restaurant. It is all goblets, candlelight, tight-tight close-ups of their faces and great actors using their eyes and mouths to catch the more subtle shadings of love, loneliness, hope, heartbreak, caution and romantic abandon. At the end of this scene, she seems very young.

There are comic scenes filled with joy and character revelation. One involves O'Hannon and Roman Catholic Bishop Baker (Prosky) certain they are about to die from poison mushrooms consumed at a dinner with far too much liquor. Another involves Bishop Baker playing trombone during Ms. McGee's retirement party -- much to the chagrin of the very proper schoolteacher who deplores the bishop's newfangled, post-Vatican, polka-Mass ways.

This is a film with Emmy written all over it. More important, it is television exploring the notion of love and life lived with decency and dignity. It is television linking us heart to heart to characters worthy of our better emotions.

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