×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

I’ll Fly Away — Then and Now

The two-hour wrap up of the civil-rights drama "I'll Fly Away" launches somewhat awkwardly, but thanks to a mostly fine script by Joshua Brand and John Falsey, good acting and strong direction, it eventually soars to levels seldom reached on U.S. television.

The two-hour wrap up of the civil-rights drama “I’ll Fly Away” launches somewhat awkwardly, but thanks to a mostly fine script by Joshua Brand and John Falsey, good acting and strong direction, it eventually soars to levels seldom reached on U.S. television.

Bumpy start is achieved by fast-forwarding from the early ’60s and Bryland, Ga. (setting for the series during its NBC run), to the present, when grandmother Lilly Harper (Regina Taylor) starts educating her rap-singing, move-busting grandson Lewis (Amir Jamal Williams) about his heritage. The contemporary introduction is contrived, but once the action moves to 1962, the telepic hits its mark.

Borrowing heavily from the case of Emmett Till — a black youth lynched for being “uppity” to a white woman — story centers mostly on the death of a friend’s nephew, Elden Simms (Brent Lowe), who is visiting from Detroit. After he has approached and apparently insulted a white woman, he is taken away in the dark of night by two white men and killed.

Only Lewis (Bill Cobb), Lilly’s father, can identify the men. After much soul-searching, he does, and Lilly, her daughter Adlaine (Rae’ven Kelly), and Lewis, fearing for their lives, leave Bryland and the Bedford household, where Lilly has been maid and surrogate mother to the three Bedford children.

Crucial difference between the 1993 and 1962 scenes is the former scenes are a little preachy about Rodney King, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, while the latter scenes resonate with poignant action as well as fine dialogue. The mature Lilly tells her grandson why he (and the rest of us) should care about the civil rights movement; the drama of the flashback shows why.

There is no contemporary scene that says as much as one that shows Lilly wiping Adlaine’s brow in the afternoon sun while John Morgan (John Aaron Bennett) takes swimming classes at the segregated pool. A shot of Adlaine standing in the shade, sadly, silently pondering why the white girls can refresh themselves in the inviting water while she sweats like a farm animal is worth 10 minutes of talk about the movement.

There are some effective contemporary scenes, however. Lilly is so charged up after telling the story to her grandson that she goes back to Bryland and the Bedford house for the first time since they fled. When she and Forrest Bedford (Sam Waterston) finally meet as peers, it’s a touching moment. Forrest surrenders his superiority and Lilly embraces her equality with equal grace.

Taylor is at her best as the younger Lilly; Waterston is surprisingly effective as the older Bedford. Cobb gives a moving performance as Lilly’s father, a man seemingly resigned to his fate who finally finds the strength to stop accepting the Southern status quo.

As Lilly’s grandson, Williams gives the only unconvincing performance in the whole pic.

Ian Sander’s direction is first-rate; camerawork is occasionally less than smooth, but the overall look of the pic is good.

I'll Fly Away -- Then and Now

(Mon. (11), 8-10 p.m. PBS)

Production: Filmed in Atlanta by Brand/Falsey in association with Lorimar Television. Exec producers, Joshua Brand, John Falsey, Ian Sander; co-producers, John Forrest Niss, Jim Davis; director, Ian Sander; writers, Joshua Brand, John Falsey.

Crew: Camera, Lauro Escorel; editor, Christopher Nelson; production designer, Charles Bennett; music, W.G. Snuffy Walden, Bennett Salvay.

Cast: With: Regina Taylor, Sam Waterston, Jason London, Ashlee Levitch, John Aaron Bennett, Peter Simmons, Bill Cobb, Rae'ven Kelly, Brent Lowe, Amir Jamal Williams, Elizabeth Omilami, Danny Nelson, Donna Biscoe, Kenny Lenny.

More TV

  • Al Burton

    Al Burton, 'Jeffersons' and 'Diff’rent Strokes' Producer, Dies at 91

    Television producer and executive Al Burton, known for his work on “The Jeffersons” and “Diff’rent Strokes,” died Tuesday at his home in San Mateo, California. He was 91. Burton leaves behind a six-decade legacy of hit television shows that also included “One Day at a Time,” “Silver Spoons,” “Square Pegs” and “Facts of Life.” However, long [...]

  • Dwyane Wade Sets Multi-Year Development Deal

    Dwyane Wade Sets Multi-Year Development Deal at WarnerMedia

    Dwayne Wade is bouncing his way into WarnerMedia’s court. The retired NBA All Star has signed a multi-faceted, multi-year deal with the company, including a development deal via his 59th & Prairie Entertainment production banner. Part of the deal sees Wade sign on as a commentator at Turner Sports. He is set to make appearances [...]

  • Katie Couric Sheryl Sandberg

    Katie Couric Steamrolls Sheryl Sandberg in Roving Vanity Fair Summit Interview

    Sending a jolt through a luxurious and excessively polite afternoon in Beverly Hills, veteran journalist Katie Couric delivered a relentless series of hardball questions to Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg on Tuesday. Speaking in conversation at the sixth annual Vanity Fair New Establishment summit at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Couric’s [...]

  • EVIL is a psychological mystery that

    CBS Renews 'Evil,' Orders Full Seasons of Four Other Freshman Shows

    CBS is doubling down on all its new shows. The network has renewed “Evil” for a second season, and handed out full-season orders to its other four freshman series, namely “All Rise,” “Carol’s Second Act,” “The Unicorn,” and “Bob Hearts Abishola.” “Evil” is set to conclude its 13-episode first season (creators Michelle and Robert King [...]

  • Jamie Lee Curtis

    Jamie Lee Curtis to Produce Military Drama With Put Pilot Order at Fox

    Jamie Lee Curtis is teaming up with April Fitzsimmons and Berlanti Productions for a drama project that has received a put pilot order at Fox. Titled “Chain of Command,” the one-hour project follows a young Air Force investigator with radical crime-solving methodology who returns to her hometown to join a military task force that doesn’t [...]

  • Michael MannLACMA: Art and Film Gala,

    TV News Roundup: Michael Mann to Direct and Executive Produce HBO Max's 'Tokyo Vice'

    In today’s TV news roundup, HBO Max names MIchael Mann as a director and executive producer of “Tokyo Vice” and Chip and Joanna Gaines announce the first original series coming to the couple’s Magnolia Network. DATES Netflix announced a six-episode docuseries centered on Nasty Cherry, the latest all-female group signed to Charli XCX’s label will [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content