The teaming of Meredith Baxter and Lesley Ann Warren — reigning queens of the TV movie back when broadcasters still regularly aired them — proves more notable than the content of “Bound by a Secret,” a busy little yarn that embraces its melodrama so unabashedly, it’s difficult not to admire it. The schmaltz factor is off the charts, but the greeting-card-like “If you love somebody, set them free” sentiment should deliver the goods for the Hallmark Channel audience.
Jane (Warren) is a successful actress who gives up her TV show and returns to visit her buttoned-up sister, Ida Mae (Baxter). The “secret” they share is that Jane gave up her baby — now the fully grown and married Kate (Bridget Ann White) — to Ida Mae, and they’ve never told her. Oh yeah, and Jane’s dying, so she not only wants to spend her remaining time with family but is debating whether to spill the beans to Kate, seeking forgiveness before she goes.
The divorced Ida Mae, meanwhile, has so defined her existence by that of Kate and her family that she has no life of her own. So Jane not only gets to die in slow motion but has the chance to prod her sister to live a little — perhaps by spending time with the eligible new gent (Timothy Bottoms) who clearly has a thing for the standoffish Ida Mae.
Yep, it’s that kind of affair, but the cast, director David S. Cass Sr. and writer Darrell V. Orme Mann tackle the slightly disjointed material with enough gusto to match the melancholy of Kyle Newmaster’s score. The main drawback is that Ida Mae’s progression toward accepting that Kate has her own life now is a little weak, but the best scenes between Warren and Baxter muster a warmth that surpasses what’s on the page.
Clearly, there’s an appetite for this sort of old-fashioned hanky-waver, and Hallmark’s determination to feed it is hardly a secret.