Picks and Pans Review: Shadowlands

updated 01/17/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/17/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

Anthony Hopkins, Debra Winger

This three-hankie weeper, set in the 1950s, tells the embellished but basically true story of C.S. Lewis, the renowned British scholar and author of the children's classic Chronicles of Narnia, and his relationship with American writer Joy Gresham.

Lewis (Hopkins) is an Oxford don whose diffident bachelor existence is bound by his tutorials on Medieval courtly love, his well-attended lectures on the role of pain and suffering (delivered with a certainty he will later regret) and, of course, his writing. Hopkins's tidy life lakes a hairpin turn when he meets Gresham (Winger), a forthright American fan with whom he has had a long correspondence and who has made the trip abroad with her young son (the very good Joseph Mazzello) to escape a troubled marriage.

To the bewilderment of Hopkins's colleagues and his beloved brother (Edward Hardwicke) the two strike up a friendship. And when Winger returns to London from New York after divorcing her husband, she prevails upon Hopkins to marry her so she can stay in England. What begins as a union of convenience becomes one of deep abiding love, hideously cut short by developments best not divulged here. There's a built-in poignancy to this saga, and Shadoivlands certainly has its share of achingly lovely moments, but ultimately the movie does not make a convincing case for the romance. The encounters between Hopkins and Winger, while sometimes moving, are too similar and simply too brief.

Winger conveys Gresham's feistiness without becoming a bulldozer, and she is genuinely touching, though her working-class accent wavers. Still, it is Hopkins who steals Shadowlands. The shy, sweet smile that flits across his face when he unexpectedly spies Winger al one of his lectures could give you hope in February. (PG)

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