An overblown teleplay based on Danielle Steel’s novel about an American beauty marrying into the British royal family focuses on Sarah Thompson, who marries a drab, too-good-to-be-true duke. Starting in the l930s with a wedding and winding five hours later with a baptism, “Jewel” barely reaches above pulp; haven’t the Windsors had enough?
With Annette O’Toole limning softheaded Sarah and Anthony Andrews the loving duke, William, the meller kicks off on its glum course when William buys Sarah a rundown chateau in France including unexplained servant Emanuelle (Corinne Touzet). Sarah bears a son, Phillip, and William takes off to fight against Germany; Phillip and Sarah stay on in occupied France, where she has no friends but Emanuelle.
Well, one other. The Germans turn the chateau into a hospital run by German commandant Joachim (Jurgen Prochnow), whom Sarah takes a platonic shine to. Pregnant and grateful for Joachim’s help, Sarah tends to the German wounded. While it makes tender TV, in real life the French would have shaved her head.
William’s back, a lot worse off for war. Sarah, pregnant again, buys family heirlooms from the destitute French and sets up a toney jewelry retail outlet.
The generational miniseries copes with Sarah and William’s brood growing up. Phillip’s sullen because, as a boy, he saw mama kissing Joachim; he sleeps with the wife of one of his brothers. The gem empire expands, the family expands, nothing’s real.
As a romantic couple, O’Toole and Andrews go pffft. Jurgen Prochow’s Joachim glides along without a ripple. Touzet’s Emanuelle remains vague. Robert Wagner turns up late but at ease as a plot device, and Christopher Villiers’ Phillip, Benedict Taylor’s second son offer surprising vitality. Ursula Howells is first-class as William’s first-class mother, and Sheila Gish, Simon Oates as Sarah’s parents are the real McCoy.
Adaptors Shelley List, Jonathan Estrin skim over the surface leaving gigantic gaps in the plot, but it doesn’t much matter: The miniseries will grab everyone in the gallery.