Host: Jean Marsh
A thoughtful, concerned account of fictional Roman Catholic nuns and their boarding school during the 1960s, “Brides of Christ” explores the issues of church restrictions and reverential joy in its six-hour, three-episode journey. The telefilm, taking place in Australia and concentrating on three figures whose worlds shift with the stirrings of Vatican II, airs its points of view through a not-so-surprising storyline.
Convent newcomer Diane Fitzgerald (Josephine Byrnes), engaged to be married, drops her fiance and mother to become Sister Catherine, novitiate at Santu Spiritu School for Girls. Bright and eager, she embraces her vocation despite the starchy, in-charge Sister Agnes (Brenda Fricker).
Developing a friendship with ingenuous novitiate Sister Paul (Lisa Hensley), Sister Catherine teaches English and acts as school newspaper adviser. Specially noticeable: Kym Wilson as naughty, rebellious student Rosemary who gets herself, as they used to say, in trouble.
Student Frances Heffernan (Naomi Watts), upset because her divorced mom plans to marry out of the church, goes into a funk, but Catherine and Paul are there to help her. One of the novitiates falls for an ultra-liberal priest (Simon Burke), while the other struggles with papal doctrine in a world of Vietnam, rock ‘n’ roll, accessible abortions, growing indifference to discipline and, of course, free love.
The drama — scripted by John Alsop in the first four hours, Sue Smith for the final two — works well enough; however, “Brides,” tending toward soapy, springs few dramatic surprises and boasts stereotypical characters.
Program does have its moments, though, with the shining Byrnes and Hensley leading the way and Watts giving schoolgirl Frances both spirit and determination.
The vidpic looks sharp thanks to James Bartle’s lensing, and Tony Kavanagh’s editing is accomplished.
If the 1991 “Brides” is not the whizbang exploitation series suggested by a warning about “adult themes,” it’s at least a serious attempt, if not a riveting one, to explore a special world. For alternative programming during the dog days of network TV, it’s a winner.