Moira Kelly, who already played one of the most famous women of the 20th century when she was Dorothy Day in “Entertaining Angels,” takes on another in “Monday After the Miracle,” in which she plays Helen Keller.
The two-hour CBS film, to be seen Nov. 15 at 9 p.m. on WRGB, channel 6, explores what happened to Keller and her teacher, Annie Sullivan, after the famous encounter recounted in William Gibson’s play (and movie), “The Miracle Worker.”
For those unfamiliar with Keller, “The Miracle Worker” tells the true story of a blind and deaf child who is taught to speak and understand by a dedicated teacher. The story ends on a high note when Sullivan breaks through Keller’s silent and dark world, and the child becomes aware of her surroundings.
“Monday After the Miracle,” based on another Gibson play, probes what happened next, when the high of the breakthrough evolved into the two women’s day-to-life struggle to earn a living, grow up and create separate lives despite their being linked forever by their hands — the medium through which they communicated.
The movie begins with Keller as a college student at Radcliffe and Sullivan, whom she calls “Teacher,” devoting herself to her pupil’s growth. But real-life questions challenge them: can they live together? how can they earn enough money to support themselves at a time when few opportunities exist for women without handicaps? what does the future hold for them?
Answers begin to be provided by John Macy, who sees Keller’s potential as a writer and escorts her into the world of magazines and books. But those answers come at a high price: the complication of his presence.
Men in their lives
In the movie, as in real life, Macy (played by Bill Campbell) creates one of the most complex triangles in history. Attracted to both women, he chooses Sullivan (Roma Downey) as his wife but soon rates a distant second in her attention because her devotion to Keller is all-consuming.
Meanwhile, a man enters Keller’s life, much to the dismay of her mother, who says that few people can provide her daughter with the constant care she needs. What begins in affection, the mother explains, inevitably becomes duty and then resentment.
Based on a recent hour-long interview on C-SPAN with the author of a new biography of Keller, “Monday After the Miracle” hews closely to the facts of her life, including her flirtation with socialism, her entry into vaudeville to earn a living and the heartbreaking but unexplained loss of the man who wanted to marry her.
Filmed in muted tones to capture the turn of the century and nicely decorated with period clothing and furniture, “Monday After the Miracle” is delivered quietly by the actors, which gives the entire film the gentle touch of the hand-to-hand communication technique used to “talk” to Keller. It was a wise device to have Kelly (star of CBS’s “To Have & To Hold”) speak out loud with the voice of a deaf person but in a normal tone when expressing her thoughts.
By the way, Downey looks remarkably like Anne Bancroft, who won a best actress Oscar for playing Sullivan in “The Miracle Worker.” (There is a brief scene in “Monday After the Miracle,” recalling that movie and Patty Duke, who won the best supporting actress Oscar as Keller.) Most famous for her role in “Touched by an Angel,” Downey establishes a literally tactile relationship with Keller that could be described as “touched by a teacher.”
Before or after viewing “Monday After the Miracle,” I recommend that you rent “The Miracle Worker” to provide you with a more complete picture of the Sullivan-Keller relationship.