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Review of Family of Strangers

Count me in as someone else who is glad this movie has made it to DVD. I taped it several years back as well and it really is a very underrated TV movie. Melissa Gilbert and Patty Duke always work very well together; they have a respect and ease with each other that comes off on screen. The film was shot on location in British Columbia and many Canadian actors are featured. It is also based on a true story from the book "Jody" written by Jerry Hulse. As I have not read it, I don't know what liberties were taken with it for this TV drama.

***Some Spoilers Herein***

Julie (Gilbert) is a young mother who is separated from her husband Sam (Eric McCormack, looking very young and sporting a believable American accent), and is living in Seattle with her daughter Megan (the late Ashleigh Aston Moore, who then went by Ashley Rogers) and her recently widowed father Earl (William Shatner).

One day while driving to work, Julie suffers a blockage in her brain and requires surgery, but she must find out if there is a history of strokes in her family. When she asks Earl for information on their family medical history, he reveals that she was adopted as an infant and he has no idea who her biological parents were. This sends Julie reeling and she sets out to discover her true parentage - after all, her life is at risk. A researcher, she discovers her birth mother came from Cloverton, British Columbia. When she tracks down Beth (Patty Duke), at first she meets with resistance and then a painful truth - Beth does not know the identity of Julie's father because she was raped. The women form a bond as they work together to uncover the rapist's identity - all Beth knows for certain is one of the boys who were in her circle of friends was the perpetrator, but as the rape occurred on a dark night following a homecoming dance in 1964, the pair must investigate and try to track the now grown men down. The identity of Julie's father and Beth's rapist is quite a surprise - at least it was to me. A few red herrings appear to throw the viewer off, making it even more shocking when the truth is revealed.

The film also features flashback sequences that recreate the mid-sixties quite well, and the director did the best to make it seem like it was shot on 8mm, and making the attack very frightening and the features of the rapist hard see clearly. The young actors do very well in their brief scenes although most bear little resemblance to their adult counterparts. It's also painful to watch as young Beth was made to feel dirty by her own mother, who refused to tell anyone (even Beth's father) about the rape and subsequent pregnancy, for which Beth was sent away to Seattle with the ruse that she was attending beauty school out of town when in fact she was waiting to give birth and was forced to give her baby up for adoption. Julie was taken from her right after she delivered and Duke's acting proves that her Oscar win for Best Supporting Actress as a teenager was no fluke. The pain, grief, anger and vulnerability in Beth is just superbly portrayed, and Gilbert's Julie matches her.

Watching this is also a very moving experience. Julie's quest to find herself, and realize the love around her, and Beth's journey into healing and reuniting with the child she never had the chance to know.

Recommended, but keep the tissues handy.
Added by Noirdame
5 years ago on 21 June 2014 01:27