Vanessa Williams is looking for a higher love in Lifetime’s take on the life and times of saintly New Orleans church lady Henriette Delille. Strong point of “The Courage to Love,” exec produced by Williams, is its lavish re-creation of 19th century Louisiana. Pic comes up short, however, in the character development and dialogue departments.
Tori Ann Johnson’s story takes place in pre-Civil War-era New Orleans, when wealthy French and Spanish men often courted women of color and fathered their children without marrying them. When we first meet the strong-willed Henriette, she has begun to question a society in which a white man, like her father (Stacy Keach), is never allowed to marry the black mother of his children (an elegant Diahann Carroll).
Not one to follow conventions blindly, our heroine dedicates her life to teaching the underprivileged children of the city how to read and becomes one of the first women of color to take an active part in the white-run church. She even rejects the romantic advances of a young French doctor (Gil Bellows), who offers to marry her and whisk her away to a better life in France, in order to follow a spiritual path.
And therein lies the problem: Williams’ portrayal of Henriette is too chaste and noble. The beautiful star of the project, whose mannerisms and language are a little too modern, comes across as too much of an ice queen. Interesting tales about people who do the work of God often feature welcome visits from Satan or his seductive pawns.
Gil Bellows, who has mastered a believable French accent (“I want to be wiz you”), only gets to hold hands and dance briefly with the object of his affections. If there had been indications of a sensual connection, the stakes would be higher and the plot more interesting to follow.
In 1989, Delille became an African American woman whose cause for canonization has been recognized by the Roman Catholic Church.
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