Picks and Pans Review: My House in Umbria

updated 06/02/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/02/2003 01:00AM

HBO (Sun., May 25, 9 p.m. ET)

This talky TV movie gives Maggie Smith a colorful character to portray, and she produces a masterly performance. But the star and the lovely Italian scenery aren't full compensation for an unsatisfying story.

Emily Delahunty (Smith), a British-born romance novelist with a checkered past, is traveling by train to Milan when a bomb that may have been planted by terrorists kills five passengers in her compartment. Emily invites three survivors to recuperate at her villa in Umbria, showing special concern for Aimee (Emmy Clarke), an orphaned 8-year-old rendered mute by the trauma. When Aimee's uncle (Oscar winner Chris Cooper from Adaptation), a bloodless entomologist, arrives from America to claim the girl, Emily tries her damnedest to warm him up. Smith and Cooper play their scenes with considerable skill, but the film is marred by an unconvincing ending and a mystery subplot with no real purpose.

BOTTOM LINE: Not a prime property

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