All Mother Watts wants is to go home one final time.
Mother Watts (Cicely Tyson) needs to see her childhood home before she’s ready to die. In Lifetime’s “The Trip to Bountiful,” airing at 8 p.m. Saturday, Tyson and Vanessa Williams, as Jessie Mae, re-create their roles from Broadway’s revival of this Horton Foote masterpiece.
Tyson won the Tony for this, and it’s a fair bet she’ll garner an Emmy as well.
“She has within her a fighting spirit that cannot be denied, and that is what I like about her,” Tyson said of the character. “Her feeling that God has kept her here for a purpose she is yet to fulfill, and she is determined to do it despite the odds.”
This is a quiet study in family angst. Both women love Ludie (Blair Underwood).
He’s a devoted son and husband. He and Jessie Mae have no children, and she is what could kindly be described as high-maintenance.
“She is a piece of work,” Tyson said of Jessie Mae. “I know that there are quite a few mothers-in-law who have that trial. Unfortunately, you have my only son, and she has convinced him that he belongs to her, and so he is in between. He doesn’t know what to do.”
The three live in a small apartment crammed with resentment and tension in 1953 Texas.
Ludie’s role is pivotal, but his screen time is scarce. Since no one will drive Mother Watts home to Bountiful, she plans to use her pension check, which Jessie Mae has designs on, for a bus ticket.
Once Jessie Mae escapes for a beauty parlor appointment, Mother Watts flees. At the bus depot, she meets Thelma (Keke Palmer).
The first indication that Bountiful no longer lives up to its name is when the ticket agent tells Mother Watts he’s never heard of it, but she can buy a ticket for a nearby town. She and Thelma strike up that sort of friendship travelers can make – when there is no artifice, and people share their stories.
“If my daughter had lived, I would want her to be just like you – sweet, thoughtful, considerate and pretty,” Mother Watts tells Thelma.
The film has a delightfully languid feel, like a summer afternoon in the South. It’s never too slow, and it is a bit different from the play.
“I hope people won’t be expecting the exact same show that we did on Broadway,” Williams said. “But I think they will be equally as entertained.”
The movie shot in 15 days, and since Williams and Tyson had done 187 performances of the play, Williams said, “It was very organic for us to do it. I hope people get a chance to really see another spectacular performance from Cicely Tyson. She informed me as an actress. People of a certain generation know her from ‘(The Autobiography of) Miss Jane Pittman,’ which was seared in our brains. To be able to see her again in such a pivotal role was an honor – to be with her and to watch her on a nightly basis.”
Tyson brings authenticity to the role. She had traveled to the countryside, where this is set, and scooped up dirt to get a genuine feel for the land.
“I have to do research as to who is this person, how did she become who she became?” Tyson said.
“The lesson that I hope people will take away is that numbers have nothing to do with your spirit, and when I say numbers, I mean your age,” Tyson said. “Elders deserve tremendous respect and praise for having survived this life to that age, especially black women.”