Erica Fox’s production of ”Timepiece,” Richard Fielder’s soggy prequel to Richard Paul Evans’ ”The Christmas Box,” unfolds with beautiful colors, buckets of bathos, and eager overacting and cliches that do the meller in. Here’s TV’s reply to overly wrought Christmas sentimentality.
Plot here involves Britisher Mary (attractive Naomi Watts), who, coming to the U.S., gets a secretarial job in a war plant during World War II and marries company owner David Park (Kevin Kilner). He’s nuts about her, and about clocks, and he doesn’t care a whit that she’s pregnant with a dead soldier’s baby. When he does look forlorn long after the birth of Andrea (Mercedes Villamil), he says he’s considering the dreaded day when he’ll have to tell the little tyke he’s not her real pops.
Never mind that, now. Clock repairer Lawrence (James Earl Jones), who saved David’s father’s life on the battlefield in World War I, is his best friend. It’s Lawrence who introduces the title’s timepiece — a lady’s watch — to David.
Taking place post-WW II in the South, Fielder’s teleplay has Lawrence irk a pair of white thugs. When they turn on the black man and murder’s done, David, through force of circumstance, has only one thing to do: Stand up for Lawrence in a murder trial. Inexplicably, the killer goes free.
Director Marcus Cole and scripter Fielder pour maudlin action over mawkishness, but Naomi Watts valiantly plays through as the loving Mary. Her restraint is not only admirable, it’s British. Kevin Kilner’s David is earnestly one-dimensional, while James Earl Jones’ Lawrence, apparently the only black in town, plies the period piece with commendable warmth and dignity.
Ellen Burstyn is Maud, an endearing, wealthy woman with ”a bad ticker,” as her father used to say. She’s actually required to say that, and does so charmingly. Scott Simpson’s her no-good nephew Everett, and Jonathan Tabler puts in a strong bid as his rotten pal Cal Avery, a name barely mentioned but important later in the game. Mercedes Villamil does a splendid job as the slightly spoiled little girl Andrea, who, too, doesn’t stick around.
An effective cemetery scene at the end of the telefilm should dampen a Kleenex or two, but the pic as a whole plays like snippets from vidpix, miniseries and features set in the 1940s.
A USO benefit party hosted by a blatant local snob (Hadley Eure, in a flagrant demo of overkill) features only one discernible GI uniform; during wartime, service folks don’t wear civvies. The WW II era, except for cursory references and a few posters, is barely acknowledged, though Kevin’s seen frowning over graphs and charts in an effort to push wartime production.
Richard Thomas, holdover from last season’s ”The Christmas Box,” appears briefly as author Richard Evans, who presents that heirloom watch to his daughter Jenna (the fair Jennifer Tighe) in an unnecessary preface to the vidpic. He then wisely ducks out.
Camerawork by John Newby is lush, and designer Michael Paul Clausen did a good job of scouting Wilmington, N.C., of catching the period’s interiors, and of establishing strong visuals. Janet Bartels-Vandergriff’s editing is pro.
Telefilm plays to the balcony. Impressionable teenagers, gulping down the manipulative, heart-on-its-sleeve ”Timepiece,” will revel in the attempt at romanticism. ‘Tis the season to push schmaltz, and this one’s a sure winner.