Dramas serve up Italian spice and a dollop of British history
New York — Mario Puzo's `The Fortunate Pilgrim' NBC, Sunday 9-11 p.m.; Monday, 8-11 p.m. Cast: Sophia Loren, Edward James Olmos, Hal Holbrook. Writer: John McGreevey, based on the novel by Mario Puzo. Director: Stuart Cooper. Producer: Alex Ponti. The Woman He Loved CBS, Sunday, 9-11 p.m. Cast: Jane Seymour, Anthony Andrews, Olivia de Havilland. Writer: William Luce. Director: Charles Jarrott. Executive producer: Larry A. Thompson.
Somebody got the ethnicity all mixed up. ``The Fortunate Pilgrim'' is a spaghetti-and-meatballs story into which some confused chef has stirred great gobs of schmaltz.
Based on a Mario (``The Godfather'') Puzo novel, this five-hour miniseries traces the life of a stereotypical Italian matriarch as she wins American citizenship and loses and wins husbands, children, and fortunes. But through it all she hangs onto her American dream: to own a house on Long Island.
``The Fortunate Pilgrim'' throws everything into the plot: traditional morality and contemporary infidelity, honest industriousness and Mafia-driven profits, suicide and heroic battlefield death, physical ills and madness.
Early in her career, Sophia Loren exuded an Earth-mother quality, which later evolved into a Lady Bountiful quality. Today both are present in what might be described as a Lady Earth persona. As the matriarch of an immigrant family in this drama, she musses up her hair, holds down the eye liner, discards the designer clothing. But she still looks devastatingly beautiful - as if someone wrapped an apron around her by mistake when she dropped by the tenement.
Overall, the cast tries hard to make it all work. Besides Loren, there is Edward James Olmos as her mad husband, Hal Holbrook as a selfless physician, and John Turturro as her son. But all are kept so busy trying to advance the complex story lines that they have little time for in-depth characterization.
The accolades - if this peculiarly passionless, ponderous family chronicle deserves any - should go to production designer Wolf Kroeger and costume designer Enrico Sabbatini, who, together with cinematographer Reginald H. Morris, make 1980s Yugoslavia (where most of the miniseries was shot) look amazingly like New York in the early 1900s.
Too much of a good thing
``The Fortunate Pilgrim'' is Mario Puzo at his most clich'ed Italian-storytelling best and Sophia Loren at her not-quite-completely-deglamorized best. Together, they pack too much of a good thing into too long a drama.
Meanwhile, over on CBS, the menu is also a bit confused. ``The Woman He Loved'' turns out to be a cloyingly sweet royal trifle. With use of flashbacks, the 1930s romance of the Prince of Wales and Wallis Simpson is traced in a series of pretty tableaux. David and Wallis are presented as star-crossed lovers, living in a kind of isolation from world events in which the new king might have played a major role - if he hadn't given it all up for ``the woman I love.''
The drama overflows with phony accents, but some of the story line is reasonably authentic, especially the attitudes of those in the inner political circles. Stanley Baldwin tells David: ``Love is for grocers, not for kings.'' And Winston Churchill refers to Wallis as ``a divorced American woman with two live husbands littered about.''
In the main, though, ``The Woman He Loved'' is gushy, romanticized trivia. Royalty buffs may relish it; most viewers will consider it soap opera.