‘Calm at Sunset’ a Slow-Paced Drama

The elements of a classic drama are all present in “Calm at Sunset,” the first entry in the Hallmark Hall of Fame’s 46th television season. A thorny confrontation between father and son, poignantly unrequited love, accidents at sea and a dark, unrevealed secret all course through the two-hour special, which stars Michael Moriarty, Kate Nelligan and Peter Facinelli. Despite these potentially dramatic elements, however, the glacial pace of the action, as well as the story’s failure to reach beneath the emotional surface, make “Calm at Sunset” slow going for the viewer.

The story, which takes place in the Nova Scotia fishing village of Galilee, chronicles the desire of young James Pfeiffer (Facinelli) to become a fisherman, much against the wishes of his father, Russell (played in a flinty interpretation by Moriarty), who has been a fisherman his entire life. Unlike Joseph, his business-oriented brother, James--in love with the sea since he was a child--is determined to pursue his seafaring bliss.

But the fishing business is in bad straits, danger lurks in every storm, and many fishermen are obliged to supplement their beleaguered finances with illegal activities. Fully aware of the deteriorating possibilities and inherent risks of the fishing trade, Russell and Margaret Pfeiffer (played in a low-key manner by Kate Nelligan) are desperate for James to return to college and get his law degree. But the young man’s ambition to go to the sea--as his father and grandfather did before him--is unwavering. And it begins to soar when he signs on for a job on a fishing boat and meets a supportive friend, seaman Kelley (in a marvelous old-salt rendering by Kevin Conway).

But the sea-faring scenes are not enough to rescue this story from torpor. There is, for example, little in the way of suspenseful tautness until James actually starts to spend time on the sea.

Even the on-board segments, rich as they are with a sense of what life is like in the confined world of a seagoing fishing vessel, fail to energize what is essentially a fairly simple, straightforward tale.


And, when the final conclusion comes, the picture’s central issue--the tension between father and son--is wrapped and tied almost too quickly.

To their credit, director of photography Glen MacPherson and executive producer Richard Welsh have given “Calm at Sunset,” which was filmed in Nova Scotia, a superbly authentic look, enriched by Ernest Troost’s lush, atmospheric music score.

* “Calm at Sunset” airs from 9-11 p.m. Sunday on CBS (Channel 2).