12/08/1997 at 01:00 AM EST
ABC (Sun., Dec. 7, 9 p.m. ET)
I am in the dark depths of hell, so why do I go on?" New York Herald reporter Henry Morton Stanley (Aidan Quinn) says in voice-over as he searches the African wilderness for Dr. David Livingstone, the missing Scottish missionary and explorer. For that matter, why go on watching this new dramatization of a true 19th-century adventure if you've seen Spencer Tracy's admirable Stanley in the 1939 movie? Primarily because Nigel Hawthorne's extraordinary Livingstone awaits you. Wise but stubborn, saintly but self-absorbed, he clearly has a gift for inspiring others, whether the cause is fighting slavery or finding the source of the Nile.
The other main reason for staying the course—besides the first-rate location photography—is to get the details on Stanley's inner demons, which are hinted at through fleeting flashbacks. Before he sets out to find Livingstone, the film hastily establishes Stanley's relationship with Alice Pike (Fay Masterson), to whom he writes letters that combine romantic ardor with consuming bitterness. Our curiosity builds: What's really eating this man? But when Stanley at last unburdens himself to Livingstone, the strangely sketchy revelations of his wartime misfortunes and tortured boyhood fail to move the viewer as they should. Something in Quinn's performance suggests that Stanley is still holding back.