Picks and Pans Review: A Mother's Right: the Elizabeth Morgan Story

updated 11/30/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/30/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

ABC (Sun., Nov. 29, 9 P.M. ET)

C

In this heavy-handed docudrama, Bonnie Bedelia stars as Dr. Morgan, a Washington, D.C., plastic surgeon who in 1987 went to jail for 25 months: She refused to reveal the whereabouts of her daughter, despite a court order guaranteeing the visitation rights of her former husband (Terence Knox), whom she accused of sexually molesting the child (PEOPLE, March 12, 1990). The girl was eventually found in New Zealand with her maternal grandparents (Rip Torn and Patricia Neal). Morgan was released from prison by an Act of Congress in 1989. The allegations of sexual abuse have never been proved in court.

This is such an inherently poignant story of justice untempered by mercy that the relentlessly one-sided fashion in which it is presented amounts to overkill. Bedelia, who gives an affecting performance as the embattled mother, is surrounded by a warm, supportive circle of friends, family and admirers. The father and his family (Knox, Harold Bergman and Grayce Spence), on the other hand, are nauseatingly creepy.

The real villain is the intransigent judge (Al Wiggins), who continually rules against Morgan and eventually orders her jailed. But the legal intricacies of the case are hard to follow, and the script labors to present happy little moments to make Morgan seem personable. The most disturbing scenes depict an episode in which the severely disturbed daughter hacks away at her doll. The movie grinds along to an unsatisfying, maudlin ending as Morgan is reunited with her daughter in New Zealand, where the two currently reside.

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