Movie filmed on Kaw offers moving glimpse of Helen Keller’s life

This past summer when the CBS television movie “Monday After the Miracle” was being shot in northeast Kansas, a number of area residents found themselves working as actors, extras and crew members. It was Hollywood on the Kaw.

Last Monday, at a gala premiere at Liberty Hall in Lawrence, those now film-savvy part-timers got a chance to see the fruits of their labors. They, and a crowd of more than 500 film fans, were excited by what they saw. So, too, was producer Vanessa Greene.

Before the screening, Greene said she had viewed the film about 300 times. “I’m very pleased by it. It’s very moving,” she said. Indeed, it is.

“Monday After the Miracle” chronicles the riveting true story of the deaf-blind Helen Keller and her devoted teacher, “miracle worker” Annie Sullivan, as their trusting relationship as young women becomes threatened by a caring young man who comes between them.

Adapted from the play of the same title by William Gibson, “Monday After the Miracle” is the poignant sequel to Gibson’s 1959 Broadway hit, “The Miracle Worker,” a wrenching depiction of Sullivan’s breakthrough to Keller, which provided the child a path out of her dark, lonely world.

In “Monday After the Miracle,” we meet a 20-year-old Keller at the turn-of-the-century, now a promising student at Radcliffe College, and her best friend, Sullivan, as they weigh an offer from the Ladies Home Journal for Keller’s life story.

It is a project that will lead to making Keller a celebrity and an inspiration to millions.

But with the introduction of John Macy, a bright young scholar from Harvard hired to help edit Keller’s story, it is also the start of an ever intensifying triangular relationship that tests the hearts and commitments of the principals.

In the hands of lesser talents, the story could easily have slid into melodramatic bathos. But thanks to a taut teleplay by Deena Goldstone, the discretely understated direction of Daniel Petrie and the steadying hand of producer Greene, “Monday After the Miracle” is itself a miracle.

The film also benefits from James Bartle’s luminous cinematography and the sensitive scoring of composer Billy Goldenberg. However, it is the stellar acting of “Touched By An Angel’s” Roma Downey (Sullivan). “To Have and To Hold” Moira Kelly (Keller) and “The Rocketeer’s” Bill Campbell (Macy), that is most likely to create buzz.

Their finely etched performances draw us in, hold us and make us care.

“Monday After the Miracle” has Emmy written all over it. It is a story with heart and uplift. And, again, it is an exemplar of artistic restraint. We believe in these characters, and therefore empathize, in large part, because nothing goes over the top.

Greene, who several years ago also produced the television movie “Stolen Women” in Kansas, told the audience “the reason I came back was to express my thanks personally to everyone who worked on the picture. It was probably the best production experience I’ve ever had.”

In turn, the British-born producer was given a heartfelt standing ovation.

“Monday After the Miracle” will be broadcast Nov. 15 as the “CBS Sunday Movie.”

Copyright 1998 The Topeka Capital-Journal