The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone

Jun 2, 2003  •  Post A Comment

A powerhouse combination of talent and serendipity enabled the creative team on this telefilm to stay faithful to Tennessee Williams’1950 novella and interpret it for the small screen. The story-about an aging Broadway star who, after her husband dies while on a vacation in Italy, is prodded into a relationship with a gigolo by a charming, conniving Contessa-is as dark as it is complex. The 1961 theatrical film, directed by Jose Quintero and starring Vivien Leigh and Warren Beatty, was set in 1960s-era la dolce vita Italy and steered clear of the novella’s deeper ambiguities in favor of a moralistic interpretation.

That’s all been remedied in the Showtime telefilm, which sets the action back in impoverished postwar Rome and brings in Olivier Martinez as the enticing gigolo. “The Italian characters are motivated by poverty and loss,” said director Robert Allan Ackerman. “The desperation reflected in Mrs. Stone’s character is happening on a national level in Italy, which had lost its pride, its dignity.”

Executive producer Hilary Heath’s long-cherished ambition to bring the novella to the screen earned a Showtime green light once she secured Helen Mirren for the lead. Getting the go-ahead from the Tennessee Williams estate was the next hurdle. “The Tennessee Williams Foundation is very careful about his work,” said Gary Levine, Showtime executive VP of original programming. “They were thrilled with Martin Sherman’s adaptation and Robert Allan Ackerman’s interpretation.”

Mr. Ackerman says the novella was his “guidebook” for the TV movie, but he was also influenced by 1950s Italian films and Douglas Sirk films. He credits the cinematography, costumes and sets with capturing the era. His extensive background in theater helped him craft the storytelling, he said. He added that he recently learned Tennessee Williams had expressed interest in having him direct his works.

And that’s not where the serendipity ended. Mr. Ackerman previously worked with both Ms. Mirren and Anne Bancroft, who plays the Contessa. The familiarity made for good communication and a relaxed atmosphere on set-no small feat for a 24-day shooting schedule. “The cast was heaven-sent,” Mr. Ackerman said. “And what a privilege it was to be offered material by Tennessee Williams to put on film.”

An Emmy for Roman Spring would be a fitting swan song for Showtime Programming President Jerry Offsay, who is set to retire. “This movie is a beautiful example of the quality of films and talent and the range of subject matter that has been Jerry’s trademark in branding Showtime as a place of provocative, quality material,” Mr. Levine said.