×

The Russell Girl

The 232nd production under the Hallmark Hall of Fame banner, "The Russell Girl" looks fabulous for its age. A tear-jerker of epic proportions, the CBS original doesn't lay on the drama so much as unearth it.

With:
Sarah Russell - Amber Tamblyn Gayle Russell - Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio Lorraine Morrissey - Jennifer Ehle Howard Morrissey - Henry Czerny Evan - Paul Wesley Phil Russell - Tim DeKay

The 232nd production under the Hallmark Hall of Fame banner, “The Russell Girl” looks fabulous for its age. A tear-jerker of epic proportions, the CBS original doesn’t lay on the drama so much as unearth it.

Amber Tamblyn stars as Sarah Russell, a young woman who, upon learning she has leukemia, impulsively returns to her small hometown before facing her arduous treatment regimen. Home, viewers soon learn, is a place Sarah has avoided for some time. Her parents (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Tim DeKay), while concerned and supportive, seem tenuous and out of touch with their daughter. The Morrisseys, the Russells’ estranged neighbors, also appear strangely unnerved by Sarah’s sudden return, especially Lorraine (Jennifer Ehle), whose ongoing anxiety and headache problems escalate.

Sarah isn’t quite sure how to break the news of the diagnosis to her family. When she learns she’s been accepted into Northwestern’s medical school — a long sought-after goal — she loses her nerve completely; she’s torn between telling her new secret and confronting an old problem, knowing, somehow, that it’s an important first step in her eventual treatment.

Sarah’s repeated attempts to engage neighbor Lorraine make it clear, however, that Sarah’s return has triggered memories of a horrible accident years earlier. Neither, it seems, has fully dealt with the incident. Sarah’s unassuaged guilt has left her believing she somehow deserves her recent troubles, while Lorraine’s misplaced anger has affected her relationship with her husband and two teenage sons.

On paper, writer Jill Blotevogel’s script is standard TV melodrama, but Tamblyn’s deeply expressive performance, along with that of Tony-winner Ehle, creates believably heart-wrenching emotions. “The Russell Girl” proves Tamblyn can carry a film. Ehle, bearing an uncanny resemblance to Meryl Streep, is as good onscreen as onstage.

Supporting perfs are well done and key to the overall story, especially the father figures eloquently portrayed by DeKay and Henry Czerny. Paul Wesley as Evan, Sarah’s old flame, is a little too good to be true but is a charismatic match to Tamblyn’s Sarah. Mastrantonio is not well served in the role of Sarah’s mom, whose misguided optimism and cheerleading is the opposite of what Sarah actually needs.

Bleckner’s deliberate pace, paired with Charles Minsky’s lingering camera shots, make for a thoughtful and beautifully filmed piece. The musical score is equally affecting. Film is exasperating at times only because it so accurately depicts the common inability to express one’s true emotions.

The Russell Girl

CBS, Sun. Jan. 27, 9 p.m.

Production: Filmed on location in Canada by Hallmark Hall of Fame Prods. Executive producer, Brent Shields; co-executive producer, Stefanie Epstein; producer, Andy Gottlieb; director, Jeff Bleckner; writer, Jill Blotevogel;

Crew: Camera, Charles Minsky; editor, Geoffrey Rowland; music, Jeff Beal; casting, Molly Lopata, Susan Forrest, Sharon Forrest. Running time: 120 MIN.

Cast: Sarah Russell - Amber Tamblyn Gayle Russell - Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio Lorraine Morrissey - Jennifer Ehle Howard Morrissey - Henry Czerny Evan - Paul Wesley Phil Russell - Tim DeKay

More TV

  • Pinewood Studios James Bond

    Netflix's Shepperton Studios Deal Is Stretching the U.K.'s Production Limits

    Netflix’s huge new hub at Shepperton Studios outside London is a further fillip for Britain’s booming production sector. Amid jitters over Brexit and its effects on the economy, the streaming giant’s commitment is a vote of confidence in the U.K. entertainment industry and a continuing source of local jobs. But the decision by Netflix to [...]

  • BBC ITV BritBox Streaming

    BritBox to Roll Out in the U.K. in Fourth Quarter

    British broadcasters the BBC and ITV have formally agreed to launch their joint streaming service, BritBox, in the U.K. in the fourth quarter of 2019. It will be priced at £5.99 per month, making it the same price as the cheapest Netflix subscription in the U.K. ITV will control BritBox, holding a 90% stake. The [...]

  • Kamala Harris

    Joe Biden and Kamala Harris Face Rematch in Next Democratic Debate

    Former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris will have the opportunity to square off again in the second debate among Democratic hopefuls vying for their party’s nomination in the 2020 presidential election CNN, which will broadcast the next round of debates on July 30 and 31, televised a draw Thursday night that decided [...]

  • Jon Wax

    Jon Wax Joins Amazon Studios as Head of Genre Programming

    YouTube’s head of scripted programming Jon Wax is joining Amazon Studios as its head of genre programming, Variety has learned. Wax will take up the position recently vacated by Sharon Tal Yguado. He had joined YouTube in August 2017, heading up drama, unscripted and current programming for YouTube’s premium channel. Prior to that, he had [...]

  • South Park Donald Trump

    TV News Roundup: Comedy Central Sets 'South Park' Season 23 Premiere Date

    In today’s TV News roundup, Comedy Central announces the premiere date of “South Park” Season 23 and Netflix sets the premiere date and offers a first look at “Unbelievable.”  DATES Comedy Central announced that Season 23 of “South Park” will premiere Wednesday, Sept. 25 at 10 p.m. Because the episodes are written and animated so [...]

  • US actor Kevin Spacey (C) is

    Kevin Spacey Shouldn't Be Exonerated in Hollywood Even as Criminal Case Ends (Column)

    The news that criminal charges against Kevin Spacey in the Nantucket groping case have been dropped raises an inevitable question: does this mean he can claw his way back into Hollywood’s good graces? Or maybe more importantly: should it?  Spacey’s rapid descent was startling, even as it quickly followed that of the once untouchable producing [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content