"The Russell Girl," Jan. 27, CBS
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NEW YORK (CNS) -- After being diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia, a young buyer at a Chicago department store returns to the small town in which she grew up to share the news with her family. What she learns during her time at home is the subject of "The Russell Girl," a sensitive two-hour Hallmark Hall of Fame drama that premieres Sunday, Jan. 27, 9-11 p.m. EST on CBS.
Sarah Russell (Amber Tamblyn) is a woman burdened by more than one secret. In addition to the news of her illness, which she has difficulty breaking to her perennially optimistic parents, Gayle and Paul (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Tim DeKay), she also carries the memory -- and guilt -- of an accident six years earlier for which she still feels responsible, and which drove her to leave town in the first place.
Sarah now finds herself once again in emotional conflict with a grieving couple who live across the street, Lorraine and Howard Morrissey (Jennifer Ehle and Henry Czerny). We gradually learn that they blame their loss on Sarah. The latter craves forgiveness, but believes that her cancer is a deserved punishment for her sins, and abjures treatment.
Sarah's guilt also complicates her relationship with her ex-boyfriend, Evan (Paul Wesley). The cause of their original breakup -- her feelings of shame -- continue to divide them, despite Evan's insistence that he loves her and his continued support.
Sarah's parents have found out that she has been accepted to medical school, forcing Sarah to continue the ruse that she's happily planning for the future.
Sarah's secret becomes even more burdensome once she becomes symptomatic. The film -- directed by Jeff Bleckner -- is starkly emotional, but never grim. It grapples with mortality, grief and the need for truth and the possibility of reconciliation, while it derives subtlety from its main characters' inability to communicate with each other.
In keeping with many of its "Hall of Fame" predecessors over the past half-century, "The Russell Girl" bears the unmistakable hallmark of intelligent, carefully wrought television. While the program's content is entirely unobjectionable, its serious themes preclude the youngest children.
Copyright (c) 2007 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
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