Good TV shows collide this weekend
The Tenth Man CBS, Sunday, 9-11 p.m. Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Derek Jacobi, Cyril Kusack, and Kristin Scott Thomas. Writer: Lee Langly, based on a story by Graham Greene. Director: Jack Gold. Executive producers: Norman Rosemont and William Self. Heaven on Earth PBS, Sunday, 9-10:30 p.m. Cast: Sian Leisa Davies, R.H. Thomson, Huw Davies, Amos Crawley, Fiona Reid, Donna Edwards. Writers: Margaret Atwood and Peter Pearson. Director: Allan Kroeker. Producers: Nancy Botkin and Duane Howard for CBC and BBC Wales.
My First Love ABC, Sunday, 9-11 p.m. Cast: Beatrice Arthur, Richard Kiley, Joan Van Ark, and Barbara Barrie. Writer: Ed Kaplan. Director: Gilbert Cates. Producer: Gail Mutrux.
Welcome to TV's Super Sunday! CBS, PBS, and ABC are each offering especially fine viewing on Sunday night. Unfortunately, as sometimes happens in this competitive, high-ratings-or-bust medium, all are airing at the same time.
So you'll have a tough decision to make in voting for your No. 1 choice by tuning in. Even if you record your No. 2 choice on a VCR, you'll need another VCR (a neighbor's?) to save No. 3.
Graham Greene originally wrote ``The Tenth Man'' as a story treatment in 1943 for MGM, where it was placed on the shelf. In 1983 it was rediscovered and published. Now, it makes its appearance in its more-or-less original form: a 1940s-style, heavily plotted thriller.
A cowardly rich prisoner in a jail in occupied France during World War II offers his fortune to another prisoner, provided that prisoner will take his place before the firing squad. Then, after the war is over, the rich man goes back to the home he gave up, now occupied by the victim's mother and sister.
In a series of complex twists and turns, every character faces his or her own feelings of guilt, sense of morality, fear of mortality.
Anthony Hopkins plays the rich lawyer; Derek Jacobi is a fugitive collaborator-impostor; and Cyril Cusack is a priest. All three of these veteran performers bring a totally engrossing air of desperate soul-searching to this marvelous, old-fashioned story.
It is something very rare these days: a thriller dealing with a moral crisis, concluding with a series of surprising and enlightening twists. Most important, it has something serious to say about matters of conscience, even as it satisfies a contemporary drive for casual entertainment.
`Heaven on Earth'
Between 1867 and 1914 more than 125,000 British orphans, foundlings, and neglected children were shipped to Canada to start new lives as ``home children'' in the loving arms of new families.
``Heaven on Earth'' is the fictional tale of the fortunes of five youngsters from Wales who arrived in New Canaan, Ont., to begin new lives. Some found affection and happiness; others were practically turned into slave laborers.
Those who stayed - and most of them did - are hailed in the dedication of this poignant film for their ``contribution to the building of the Canadian nation.''
This is a delicate tale, told with subtlety and sensitivity, utilizing the pathos boldly but never allowing itself to become cloying. Magically photographed, sensitively directed by Allan Kroeker, and skillfully acted by a superb cast of mainly young Welsh actors, ``Heaven on Earth'' teeters on the edge of bathos now and then. But in the long run it emerges as a vivid picture of a time and a place, a sweet salute to the inherent goodness of ordinary people.
`My First Love'
Beatrice Arthur, fresh from her brash portrayals in ``The Golden Girls,'' brings all that boldness plus a huge dose of vulnerability to ``My First Love,'' a sad, sweet, corny, delight of a film.
She plays a new widow who, in a fit of loneliness, contacts her old high school sweetheart who, despite his current love relationship, is ready to rekindle the flame with the widow. What evolves is a m'elange of joy and uncertainty, heartbreak and elation. The widow discovers that love - at whatever age - is only the scenario for a script chock-full of trial and error. She tries; she errs; she tries again. They try again.
I predict that``My First Love'' will be the beginning of a new kind of love affair between television viewers and that very special ``Golden Girl,'' Bea Arthur.