The actors and director who made "Winter's End" have more Oscars, Emmys and Tonys to their names than you can shake a stick at. And their talent is all that keeps this 202nd Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation from collapsing.
"Winter's End" is the very worst kind of "family" entertainment: bland enough for the children, but because of that very fact, so mind-numbingly tedious that adults will have a hard time staying awake through its full two hours.
The pedigree of "Winter's End" is a good one: It's the third installment in a trilogy of "Sarah Plain and Tall" stories based on the books of Newberry Medal-winner Patricia MacLachlan, who also wrote all three teleplays. This latest of the stories all of which center on Kansas farmer Jacob Witting and his mail-order second wife, Sarah also features the same actors as the first two. Four-time Academy Award nominee and three-time Tony winner Glenn Close ("Sunset Boulevard") plays Sarah, and Oscar-winner Christopher Walken ("The Deer Hunter") plays Jacob. The drama is directed by Glenn Jordan, who has six Emmys to his name and directed the original "Sarah" film nine years ago.
They are joined this time by Academy Award-winner Jack Palance ("City Slickers"), who plays the father who abandoned Jacob and his mother when Jacob was a child and has now returned to see how his son turned out.
And that's about it as far as plot is concerned, except for a broken leg and a raging blizzard that add a bit of spice but only a bit to this thin story.
In "Winter's End," the time is 1918, World War I is setting Europe afire and a flu epidemic the most destructive of modern times is killing nearly 20 million people. However, with the exception of the town doctor's son, who appears only in a brief scene, nobody in "Winter's End" is affected by the war, and with the exception of a few nameless townspeople none of whom are shown to be fatally stricken nobody has the flu. The only tension in the drama focuses on why Jacob's father left so many years ago and has now returned. Sustaining that tension for two full hours, however, proves to be an impossibility.
The original "Sarah Plain and Tall," which aired in February, 1991, ("Sarah Plain and Tall: Skylark" followed two years later), was the most-watched Hallmark Hall of Fame in what was then the series' 42-year history, attracting more than 50 million viewers. Today, it remains the highest-rated made-for-TV movie of the decade. It's hard to imagine that "Winter's End" will threaten the original's standing.
If you must watch this Hallmark Hall of Fame and the series has become something of a holiday tradition feel free to take a break while the drama, or what there is of it, plays out. You wouldn't want to miss the Hallmark commercials. They're usually pretty good, as commercials
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