Two mothers joined by tragedy is about as durable as a Lifetime movie premise gets, and despite fictionalizing its fact-based source material, “Amish Grace” has that emotional foundation to carry it through. Tammy Blanchard is fast becoming a reigning queen of the modern TV movie (not necessarily a great career niche, admittedly), adding another wrenching performance to her resume. And while the movie features a clunky, less-than-graceful device by partially framing the story through the eyes of a TV reporter, the key performances for the most part deliver.
Drawn from a book about the 2006 shooting of five Amish girls in a Pennsylvania schoolhouse, the movie quickly zeroes in on two mothers: Ida Graber (actually a composite character, played by Kimberly Williams-Paisley), whose daughter was among the victims; and Amy Roberts (Blanchard), whose husband, inexplicably, carefully planned and executed the attack.
Ida is tormented by the demands of her faith, which calls for forgiving those who have sinned against them — a tenet articulated by her husband (Matt Letscher, also quite good), even as he struggles with his own grief. Amy, meanwhile, must deal not only with guilt regarding what happened but the reality that her husband would rather “be in Hell” than with her and their children.
The idea of losing kids, of course, tugs at the heartstrings, but as directed by Gregg Champion from a script by Sylvie White and Teena Booth, “Grace” proves a trifle relentless in its tone.
The most compelling reason to tune in is Blanchard, who — after CBS’ “Sybil” remake and “Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows” — conveys the pain of a woman who keenly realizes it’s not merely her own life that’s been devastated. Williams-Paisley has the more thankless task of saying things like, “God has shattered my heart.”
Onscreen depictions of the Amish have a way of feeling stilted, unless Harrison Ford happens to be in them. To their credit, the filmmakers seek to go beyond that, capturing in a more generic sense how religious faith can help people endure when confronted by such a horrible and capricious act.
For all that, the movie never entirely dispels the customary Amish stereotypes. Still, if thee like the occasional tearjerker, thou hast good reason to watch.