Produced two years ago for German television, this latest adaptation of “The Shell Seekers” bears a more-than-passing resemblance to the recent Oscar nominee “Atonement,” and not just because both feature Vanessa Redgrave as a woman reminiscing about her war-torn past. It’s also a pure (if decidedly uneven) melodrama, with the central character seeking a measure of redemption — in this case, by bequeathing the happiness that has mostly eluded her to the next generation. Pic fits with Hallmark’s three-hankie brand and showcases Redgrave in another nifty role.
Based on Rosamunde Pilcher’s novel, the story takes place in the 1980s and features Redgrave as Penelope Keeling, the daughter of a renowned artist (Maximilian Schell, seen in flashback). Penelope is recovering from a heart attack, which has prompted her three kids to covetously circle her, realizing that selling grandpa’s paintings could leave them financially secure –sentimental value be damned.
After her brush with mortality, Penelope also begins reflecting on her life, looking back on a loveless marriage to one soldier and her fling with another during WWII. In the process she travels to the Mediterranean and bonds with a young woman, Antonia (Stephanie Stumph), whose own budding romance offers a glimpse of the passion Penelope briefly tasted but never fully enjoyed.
It’s all pretty standard stuff — especially with “Atonement” as an inevitable, overshadowing comparison — and Penelope’s avaricious offspring border on cartoons. Redgrave nevertheless delivers a fine, flinty performance, and the melancholy ending caps it with a satisfying exclamation point.
Tellingly, an Emmy-nominated version of the book starring Angela Lansbury was produced by the Hallmark Hall of Fame nearly 20 years ago, whereas this project follows a delayed, slightly circuitous path to cable. Take it as a sign that for TV networks, finding commendable telepic fare continues to grow harder.