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TV Review

'True Women' Celebrates Grit of Those Living on the Frontier

May 17, 1997|LYNNE HEFFLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Don't let recent disappointing TV blockbusters stop you from tuning in to "True Women," a delicious historical epic in two parts, with a strong cast headed by Dana Delany, Annabeth Gish and Angelina Jolie.

The title is ironic, not coy; it's from a 19th century male assertion that "true women" would never want to do anything as unwomanly as vote. Even though they were working farms and ranches, defending their families and losing their lives to brutal frontier conditions and conflicts. Not to mention having babies.

This drama, based on Janice Woods Windle's fact-based novel, has some lusty, strong men in it, but they're peripheral to three memorable women who are passionately involved in this country's early history, from the Texas Revolution to the beginning of the women's suffrage movement.

Euphemia (Gish) and Georgia (Jolie) are childhood friends separated first by family tragedy, later by conflicting beliefs about slavery and the treatment of American Indians. (Tina Majorino and Rachael Leigh Cook play the women as young girls; Majorino is especially notable.)

Delany is terrific as the matriarch, a pipe-smoking, large-living wife of a frequently absent Texas Ranger (Powers Boothe). She never ages, either.

Eight months pregnant, she leads thousands of women and children in a covered wagon flight to safety after the fall of the Alamo, earns the respect of a dreaded renegade Comanche warrior for her spirit, stoically loses babies to fever and war and, like the two younger women, takes no guff from anybody.

It's a seductive, beautifully filmed saga, packed with childbirth, widowhood, war, frontier settling, cholera, cotton planting, sharp-shooting, horse-riding, slave-holding (and freeing), racist and sexist brutality, love making, tuberculosis, female grit and endurance. The film was directed by Emmy winner Karen Arthur and was written by Christopher Lofton.

* "True Women" airs at 9 p.m. Sunday and Tuesday on CBS (Channel 2). The network has given it a rating of TV-PG (may not be suitable for young children).

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