20 January 2000 | shrine-2
Memories of a seascape
Penelope Keeling has just had a heart attack, or so her doctor says, but she cannot tolerate the sights and sounds of impending death that surround her at the hospital. So against his orders, she goes home. She looks over her garden, and determines to clear away the weeds there, when suddenly a memory of the past flashes before her: a vision of her mother Sophie and her playing against a beautiful seascape. Her father is in the foreground, capturing the scene on canvas, and it isn't unlike his painting on her parlor wall called "The Shell Seekers" that she keeps because it's a document of the days when she was most happy.
It's a mighty vision, because in it lies the heart of Penelope's gift--the joy of living that her dead mother was able to pass on to her, a joy she so wishes she knew how to convey to her children--and can't. And in her frustration, she embarks on a journey to recapture that happiness again.
In its soft, hushed way, "The Shell Seekers" is a testament to what great television can be. John Pielmeier opens before us the mystery and grandeur of Rosamund Pilcher's story about maternal loss and love, and Angela Lansbury reveals sides in the embodiment of Pilcher's creation that reach something primal inside of you and takes root in you for what seems might be forever. I don't think I'll forget the ending to this movie as long as I live. It jerked tears that I never thought I had; the last time my heart was caught in my throat this hard was in one of the great crying parties of all time "Imitation of Life." And where Juanita Moore's problem was obvious, Angela Lansbury's is less clear. Her past suffering was brought on by the surprises that war springs on unsuspecting people and the usual entanglements brought on by hostile relatives, but the sorrow about her grown children is much more mysterious like the deep, blue sea Penelope seems to be stretching her arms out to. Lansbury has never been this pensive in a role, although she had a lot of practice on "Murder, She Wrote." But nothing there ever had this kind of lingering poignancy. With Anna Cateret, Patricia Hodge, and Christopher Bowen as her children; Denis Quilley as Hodge's lover; Sophie Ward as his mermaid of a daughter; Mark Lewis Jones as the gardener with a tender secret of his own; and Sam Wanamaker as the man Pen let get away. If Cornwall is as beautiful as Waris Hussein is able to show us in this movie, I hope to visit it one day.