×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Water Is Wide

Literary pedigree will certainly draw viewers to Hallmark Hall of Fame's adaptation of Pat Conroy's first novel, "The Water Is Wide," but some stunning camera work and Alfre Woodard's nuanced performance are the real draws.

With:
Pat Conroy - Jeff Hephner Dr. Henry Piedmont - Frank Langella Mrs. Brown - Alfre Woodard Barbara - Julianne Nicholson Edna - LaTanya Richardson Bennington - James Murtaugh Ethel - Ivana Grace

Literary pedigree will certainly draw viewers to Hallmark Hall of Fame’s adaptation of Pat Conroy’s first novel, “The Water Is Wide,” but some stunning camera work and Alfre Woodard’s nuanced performance are the real draws.

This perfectly entertaining telepic is well cast, with Frank Langella nailing the toothy politician while relative newcomer Jeff Hephner is the picture of idealism as enthusiastic young teacher Pat Conroy.

Jeff Beal provides a haunting musical score, peppered with popular music of the late 1960s, while lensing by Kees Van Oostrum eloquently captures the pristine and forgotten landscape of Conroy’s beloved South Carolina.

Somewhere along the line, however, John Kent Harrison’s take on Jonathan Estrin’s script falls short, embracing the complex emotions of some characters and then glossing over others. It’s this uneven character development that ultimately hampers the pic.

A forerunner to “Dead Poets’ Society,” “The Water Is Wide” is based in part on Conroy’s real-life experiences as a novice teacher in a one-room schoolhouse on Daufuskie island, off the coast of Beaumont, S.C. During his brief tenure, Conroy had to contend with primitive conditions, hypocrisy, jealousy and plain old inertia.

Martin Ritt’s 1974 version, starring Jon Voight, was a low-key inspirational family favorite. In this rendition, the children of the fictional Yamacrow Island are basically deemed unteachable, but to avoid blemishing the sterling record of the Beaumont school district, they need a teacher to shuffle the paperwork and make sure these kids are, at least in theory, receiving some sort of education.

To Yamacrow school principal Mrs. Brown (Woodard), that translates as harsh discipline and submission to the school board. As a black professional woman in a white man’s world, she has neither resources nor support, but if she just follows orders, she may get a career out of it.

Conroy, anxious for steady pay to support his soon-to-be bride and her 6-year-old daughter, jumps at the opportunity of a teaching position, while the arrogant superintendent of schools, Dr. Henry Piedmont (Langella), recognizes an easy mark.

Conroy soon learns that his pupils, fifth- through eighth-graders who can barely read or write, have no idea what country they live in and speak a strange dialect that is an ancient relic from the days of slavery.

Mrs. Brown and the locals seem unmoved by his passion to educate these kids and greet him with the wary look of those who have heard empty promises before. Undeterred, Conroy utilizes any and all means to enlighten the kids, taking them on field trips off of the island, performing puppet shows and even inviting them to his wedding.

Estrin’s script captures the humor of the situation, allowing us to see through the children’s eyes how strange and ridiculous their teacher can be. Similarly, Harrison deftly conveys how such isolation and primitive circumstances can in fact foster imagination and breed the purest innocence.

That same seclusion, however, would almost certainly breed dysfunction, and unlike Conroy’s book, Harrison and company take the easy road out, depicting the island and its residents in a hidden Utopia corrupted only by the big bad mainlanders. More insulting yet is Conroy’s overbearing and militaristic father appearing as the literal voice in the young man’s head.

All of this misdirection positions Hephner a little too close to the stereotypical savior role, instead of offering a slice-of-life look at imperfect people trying to make a difference in a crazy world. Woodard more deftly handles that notion with a performance that’s a study in frustration with heartbreaking undercurrents of racism.

Pic does capture Conroy’s long love affair with the Southern landscape, and while it touches on the author’s recurring theme of equality, one would like to have seen equal justice done to all of his characters.

The Water Is Wide

CBS, Sun., Jan. 29; 9 p.m.

Production: Filmed on location in Wilmington, N.C., by Hallmark Hall of Fame Prods., in association with Fox Television Studios. Executive producers, Richard Welsh, Brent Shields; director, John Kent Harrison; writer, Jonathan Estrin, based on the book by Pat Conroy.

Crew: Camera, Kees Van Oostrum; editor, Michael Ornstein; music, Jeff Beal; sound, Carl Rudisill; casting, Lynn R. Kressel. Running time: 2 HOURS.

With: Pat Conroy - Jeff Hephner Dr. Henry Piedmont - Frank Langella Mrs. Brown - Alfre Woodard Barbara - Julianne Nicholson Edna - LaTanya Richardson Bennington - James Murtaugh Ethel - Ivana Grace

More Film

  • (L to R) VIGGO MORTENSEN and

    Green Book' Lands Post-Oscars Theatrical Release in China

    Fresh off Monday’s news that it had picked up five Academy Award nominations, best picture favorite “Green Book” is set for more good luck. The film will hit Middle Kingdom theaters on March 1, the first weekend after the Oscars, which fall on Feb 24, Alibaba Pictures said on its official social media account, on [...]

  • Fan Bingbing

    Chinese Celebrities Pay $1.7 Billion in Back Taxes Following Fan Bingbing Scandal

    Chinese film and TV stars have paid some $1.7 billion (RMB11.7 billion) of additional taxes, following the mid-2018 scandal surrounding actress Fan Bingbing. The figure was announced Tuesday by China’s State Tax Administration. Chinese authorities launched a probe into the taxation affairs of the entertainment sector in October. Companies and individuals were asked to examine [...]

  • Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo, Marco Graf

    Film News Roundup: AMC, Regal to Leave 'Roma' Out of Best Picture Showcases

    In today’s film news roundup, “Roma” will not be in the best picture showcases at AMC and Regal, “Jimi Hendrix: Electric Church” gets a release and SAG-AFTRA’s David White has a new appointment. ‘ROMA’ SPURNED AMC Theatres and Regal Cinemas are leaving Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” out of their upcoming annual showings of the contenders for [...]

  • First Look at SAG Awards' Cuban

    First Look at SAG Awards' Cuban-Inspired After-Party (EXCLUSIVE)

    Celebrities at this year’s SAG Awards won’t have to go far for some tropical fun. Sunday’s annual post-show gala, hosted by People magazine for the 23rd year, is set to feature a Cuban-themed party space adjacent to the Shrine Auditorium. “We’re kind of going back to more of a thematic element. I have some close [...]

  • Paul DavidsonVariety Big Data Summit Presented

    Listen: The Orchard's Paul Davidson on Surviving Sundance Bidding Wars

    Hollywood heads to Park City, Utah this week in the hopes of finding the next big Sundance Film Festival breakout. Paul Davidson, executive vice president of film and television at The Orchard, plans to be in the thick of it. In today’s edition of Variety‘s “Strictly Business” podcast, Davidson opens up about The Orchard’s strategy [...]

  • Young Tony Soprano in 'Sopranos' Movie:

    James Gandolfini's Son Michael Gandolfini Cast as Tony Soprano in 'Sopranos' Movie

    Michael Gandolfini, son of the late James Gandolfini, will play the young Tony Soprano in “The Many Saints of Newark,” the  prequel movie to the television series “The Sopranos.” “It’s a profound honor to continue my dad’s legacy while stepping into the shoes of a young Tony Soprano,” Gandolfini said. “I’m thrilled that I am [...]

  • Bradley Cooper A Star Is Born

    The Message of the Oscar Nominations: You'd Better Have a Social Message

    Each year at the Left Coast crack of dawn, when the Oscar nominations are announced, there’s generally at least one major nomination many pundits were predicting that fails to materialize. When that happens, entertainment media tends to rise up as one and say the s-word: snub. In truth, it’s not usually a snub; it’s just [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content