"Skylark" bakes like the dry clay of the Kansas farm fields in which the movie unfolds. And happily, Sunday's sequel to 1991's graceful "Sarah, Plain and Tall" offers a satisfying confection of surprising subtlety.
An American story to the bone, persuasively evoking the pioneer experience that built the nation's heartland, "Skylark" airs at 9 p.m. on CBS (WBAL-Channel 11) as a Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation.
Glenn Close, Christopher Walken and most of the other cast members of "Sarah" return, taking up author Patricia MacLachlan's tale of a mail-order bride from Maine who must yet learn that to truly love her man she has to also love the harsh land he cherishes.
"Sarah," a huge ratings success, ended with Sarah and Jacob Witting (Ms. Close and Mr. Walken) finding genuine affection for each other. And her presence had begun to heal a family still in pain from the loss of his first wife.
"Skylark" opens a couple years later, in 1910, as the family -- including kids Anna and Caleb (Lexi Randall and Christopher Bell) -- poses on the porch for a photograph. As they turn from the camera, the backs of their clothes are damp with perspiration, and they talk with the itinerant photographer of the drought that has baked the land.
For Sarah, from the rocky shores of Maine, the arid conditions at first seem surely temporary. To Jacob, who has known no other land, they pose a test of endurance.
"I won't leave you. You don't leave everything you've worked for," vows Sarah. But as neighbors begin to move away, and a wind-swept brush fire claims their barn, a trip back to her Maine roots with the children presents a challenge to the couple's future.
You won't be surprised, or disappointed, with the way "Skylark" ends. The story of Sarah follows the long-established patterns of romance writing, and it seems apparent at movie's end that another sequel is in the offing.
The film strikes few false notes along the way, although some viewers may tire of the lingering close-ups of Ms. Close in beatific poses.
As in the best movies and books, you feel you have really spent some time with real people in an authentically recreated period of history.
Ms. MacLachlan's script weaves the elements of life vs. elemental nature -- a calf is born, the family's cat is big with kittens -- with an uncommonly literate attention to language.
"It was between the lines I loved the most," says Sarah, as she recounts the way that, in the first mov
she fell in love with Jacob through his letters.
"Sometimes words are not good enough," says Jacob to Sarah. Indeed, Mr. Walken's lines for the taciturn Jacob could not involve more than a few pages of script. Like many a plainsman, he talks in short sentences that say volumes.
And the movie is equally understated, using a succession of scenes to tell a persuasive story.
When: At 9 p.m. Sunday
+ Where: CBS, WBAL-Channel 11