Picks and Pans Review: The Staircase

updated 04/13/1998 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/13/1998 01:00AM

CBS (Sun., April 12, 9 p.m. ET)

C

Some may think this drama works too hard at being inspirational, but you can hardly expect two hours of cynicism from a TV movie that follows Touched by an Angel on Easter Sunday. Set in the 1870s, the story is based on the legend of the so-called miraculous staircase of the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe. Barbara Hershey stars as the terminally ill mother superior, determined to see the chapel completed before she goes. Things look bleak because the builders somehow forgot to allow for a staircase leading to the choir loft. The sisters pray like mad, and behold: A kindly but mysterious carpenter (William Petersen) offers to construct a wooden spiral staircase—using no nails—in the extremely tight space remaining. A feasible project—for those who believe faith can move mountains.

An interesting relationship develops between Petersen, whose wisdom and goodness seem almost heavenly, and the sharp-tongued, irreverent Hershey. But the film is sidetracked by the intrigues of the corrupt contractor (David Clennon) and incompetent architect (Justin Louis) who botched the chapel job initially. And the four-handkerchief ending would be a bit much on any night.

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