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TV Review

Wrenching Story of Child's Death Is Told With Dignity

April 25, 1998|LYNNE HEFFLEY

When 7-year-old Nicholas Green was shot by thieves while vacationing in Italy with his family, his death and his grieving parents' unvengeful generosity of spirit had a profound effect: Nicholas' heart now beats in the chest of a Roman boy; six other Italians received his gift of life as well and Italy made a dramatic shift from having one of the lowest rates of organ donorship in Europe to making such donations mandatory.

Sunday's CBS movie, "Nicholas' Gift," starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Alan Bates, is a deeply affecting dramatization of that 1994 tragedy, a rare example of fact-based TV with so much genuine heart and integrity that it's never a vicarious wallow. Even as it eventually becomes overt public consciousness-raising, Robert Markowitz's restrained direction and the sterling cast, headed by Curtis and Bates, avoid false notes.

Christine Berardo's resonant script portrays a loving family, off on their Italian adventure, touring sites of ancient Roman history that had fascinated Nicholas (an endearing Gene Wexler) in school. The bright, sensitive little boy, whose make-believe play always involved heroic and noble deeds, takes it in with wide-eyed zest.

The Greens' story, meanwhile, is quietly intertwined with that of an Italian family, whose son Angelo (Nazzareno Constantini) will die unless he receives a new heart. With so few Italian donors, his chances are slim.

Though that might raise an easy tear or two, no matter how superficially treated, there is layered depth in this portrayal of very human feelings of confusion, hope, guilt, grief and release. Vividly illustrating the value of the life-giving commitment we all might make, it stirs real emotion, even though the film's point is made well before it's over.

Curtis in particular is a notable presence, submerging her high-profile stardom in a wrenching performance as Nicholas' mother. Both she and Bates, as Nicholas' father, make believable--and understandable--the qualities that so moved the Italian people: the dignity and compassion in the Greens' refusal to leaden their son's memory with bitterness and rage.

*

* "Nicholas' Gift" airs at 9 p.m. Sunday on CBS (Channel 2). The network has rated it TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children).

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