Marrying biblical heft with the particular bonds between mothers and daughters (as well as moms’ noble sacrifices), Anita Diamant’s bestseller “The Red Tent” is a perfect fit for Lifetime, conceptually speaking, and it’s been turned into a handsome melodrama, starring Rebecca Ferguson (“The White Queen”), who doubles as narrator of her woe-filled tale. Literary in tone and shot with considerable scope in Morocco, the first half of this four-hour miniseries proves stronger than the second, but by then viewers should be firmly invested in the story, which, by moving women front and center, cleverly redresses the Bible’s male-oriented tilt.
“My name means nothing to you. My memory is dust,” Ferguson’s Dinah tells us in voiceover at the outset, signaling the focus of what’s to come.
Spanning decades, Diamant’s twist on the Old Testament begins by shifting the emphasis from Jacob (“Game of Thrones’” Iain Glen) to his four wives, including Dinah’s mother Leah (Minnie Driver) and Rachel (Morena Baccarin), who passes on her knowledge of midwifery to the girl. Having blessed Jacob with nearly a dozen sons, including the visionary Joseph (Will Tudor), the women convene under a red tent, where they share sororal ties and rituals with each other, as well as with the strong-willed Dinah.
Forced to flee from his land of Canaan, Jacob eventually decides to return home, where Dinah is schooled by her grandmother (Debra Winger). Soon, though, she catches the eye of a prince, yielding unexpected and tragic consequences due to the jealousy of her other brothers toward the dreamy Joseph, who their father dotes on, and regularly turns to for counsel.
The tide of those events sets Dinah adrift in part two, though as adapted by Elizabeth Chandler and Anne Meredith and directed by Roger Young, it’s clear there’s no escaping her tumultuous past. Certainly, “The Red Tent” brims with big flourishes — revenge, betrayal, heartbreak — and embroidered narration (“From that moment on, her heart was his”; or “He was the miracle that kept me alive. For him, I could bear anything”), but barring a few arid patches, the quality casting and unabashed emotion brings it satisfyingly home.
Despite the recognizable names, much of the production’s appeal can be attributed to the Swedish-born Ferguson, who with her earlier Starz showcase now has two solid miniseries under her belt.
In pragmatic terms, the biblical setting provides an arresting backdrop for soapy material that otherwise falls squarely in Lifetime’s wheelhouse. And while the network is unlikely to rival sister channel History’s success with “The Bible,” between the book’s devotees and the subject matter, one suspects this fairly sizable bet on “The Red Tent” will leave the network in the black.