Review: ‘Body and Soul’

Filmed in England by Red Rooster Films and TV Entertainment Prods. for Carlton TV. Exec producers, Linda James, Jenny Reeks; producer, Jacky Stoller; director, Moira Armstrong; writers, Paul Hines, Jill Hyem; based on the novel by Marcelle Bernstein; Host: Russell Baker.

Filmed in England by Red Rooster Films and TV Entertainment Prods. for Carlton TV. Exec producers, Linda James, Jenny Reeks; producer, Jacky Stoller; director, Moira Armstrong; writers, Paul Hines, Jill Hyem; based on the novel by Marcelle Bernstein; Host: Russell Baker.

Fair to middling adaptation of a novel by Marcelle Bernstein about a Catholic nun emerging from a Wales convent into the heady life of an English mill town plods along its expected route. First episode of this “Masterpiece Theatre” miniseries is good storytelling; the remainder is manufactured meller tilting to body, not soul.

Sister Gabriel (luminous Kristin Scott Thomas), aka Anna Gibson, gets temporary leave when her Yorkshire brother Simon, head of a textile mill, dies. His pregnant widow, Lynn (Amanda Redman), two young sons and the foundering mill need attending. Anna, blessed with a good business head, strong will and doubtful principles, takes on the mill’s manager, the stock villain Stan (Anthony Valentine).

With the help of Simon’s secretary, Peggy (Sandra Voe), and the mill’s good-looking overseer, Hal (Gary Mavers), Anna starts the mill on a new tack — which is where Anna’s story deteriorates. She wears nun’s robes, but she’s never seen going to Mass or saying her rosary; spiritual thoughts are unexplored (unused to mirrors, she gawks at herself fully nude in what’s supposed to represent awakening but plays like gratuitous exhibitionism).

She eyes handsome Hal. To pull off a business deal, she deceptively wears civvies so the bankers won’t know they’re dealing with a Catholic sister. Returning to her nun’s habit and to the convent, she no longer feels part of the cloistered world.

There’s no sign of why she was originally drawn to the religious life, no sense of a pietistic bent or why she’s remained a bride of Christ for 16 years. Using Hal for an experimental affair — she tells him frankly that she wants him to be the first — she faces her secular future.

Scripter Paul Hines (with a hand from Jill Hyem in the first episode) demonstrates little joy or genuine purpose in the contemplative life.

Thesping throughout is serviceable. Redman’s versatility and Voe’s heartiness are pluses, and Thomas, whose remarkable eyes speak for her, is resourceful. Mavers makes a good impression of the used mill man.

Peter Middleton’s photography is good, other tech credits are solid.

Body and Soul

Production

PBS, Sun. Feb. 13, 9 p.m.; Sun. Feb. 20, 9 p.m.; Sun. Feb. 27, 9 p.m.

Crew

Camera, Peter Middleton; supervising editor, John MacDonnell; editor, Jeremy Strachan; art director, Julie Sheppard; sound, Nick Steer; music, Jim Parker. 270 MIN.

With

Cast: Kristin Scott Thomas, Amanda Redman, Anthony Valentine, Sandra Voe, Joshua Smith, Ben Hinitt, Gareth Milne, John Bowe, Gary Mavers, Patrick Allen, Tracy Keating, Madeleine Christie, Pamela Duncan, Helena McCarthy, Olive Pendelton, Elizabeth Bennett, Rebecca Harris.
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