Sad Inheritance Review

Michael Brooke has reviewed the Region 2 DVD release of Sad Inheritance

Christina Kinsey (Susan Dey) has been living a carefree, irresponsible life up to now: both she and her boyfriend experiment with drugs (chiefly cocaine), and the biggest thing that she’s expecting will happen to her is that she might finally get the promotion at work that she’s been craving for years, though she can’t see that her unreliability and tendency to nip off to the loo for a bit of unconventional nasal stimulation might count against her. Oh, and she also has a troubled relationship with her mother (Piper Laurie), who disapproves of her lifestyle (despite being an alcoholic herself) – but Christina manages to fob her off successfully for the most part.

Things change dramatically, though, when she finds herself pregnant – and although she makes some effort to crack down on her cocaine intake, it doesn’t help: when baby Lynne is born addicted to cocaine herself, Christina’s entire world turns upside down. Not least because Lynne’s addiction technically counts as child abuse, which means that hard-nosed social worker Flo Crawford (Lorraine Toussaint) is assigned to observe her to make sure that she’s capable of being a fit and proper mother before she’s allowed her child back.

But Christina just can’t get off the drugs (she’s constantly plied with them by workmates and her boyfriend) – even reassuring herself to an insane degree that her child is different from the ‘crack babies’ that she’s shown documentaries about because she took a ‘better’ kind of cocaine! So it comes as a surprise to nobody but her when Lynne is handed over to a foster home and threatened with adoption, and that she has to apply for official permission and obtain numerous court hearings merely in order to visit her daughter, let alone look after her.

Despite Piper Laurie’s triple Oscar nomination track record, she spends surprisingly little time on screen (maybe the producers could only afford her for a couple of days!), with most of the real drama being played out either between Christina and Crawford. The latter is a mother of three herself, and is not disposed to treat Christina’s situation lightly – though, inevitably, her granite exterior eventually starts to crack as Christina’s love for her daughter becomes increasingly clear.

Sad Inheritance is mildly watchable in a bland daytime Channel Five kind of way, but that’s part of the problem: because we know it was made as an American TV movie, we know that it’s not going to take any real risks: it will touch on difficult issues but won’t explore them in the kind of depth that they need in order to breathe and develop, and certainly without much in the way of cinematic flair (given that the film was made for Susan Dey Productions I doubt the auteur theory has much application here – Rod Hardy is the credited director, but any competent hack could have made something similar).

Despite the subject matter, there’s no real sense of danger: there’s a lot of finger-wagging moralising about the consequences of one’s irresponsible and thoughtless actions (the courtroom climax is more a series of cautionary lectures than a dramatically satisfying experience in its own right, especially as the end is as utterly predictable as these things come), but only brief moments that graphically dramatise it – ultimately, having a drug-addicted baby is made to seem more like a minor inconvenience than a shattering tragedy. (Then again, to be fair, a more Christiane F approach probably wouldn’t have helped much, given the production circumstances and target audience!)

To be honest, this really isn’t the kind of film whose natural audience is going to care one iota about the technical side of things, so I’ll be brief: it’s an American TV movie, so the original framing would have been 4:3 (thus justifying the non-anamorphic transfer), the film itself is technically competent in that overlit TV movie kind of way, and there’s nothing wrong with the DVD transfer: if I never went “wow!” at any point, I never felt I was being short-changed either; it’s a sharp, clear picture with plenty of detail and no significant digital artefacting. There’s a slight graininess to the image overall, but it’s never distracting or unpleasing.

The sound is very typical for a TV movie: dialogue is overwhelmingly upfront in the mix, and though the sound format is labelled “stereo” it might as well be mono. So no sonic thrills, then, but – as with the picture – no unpleasant surprises either (though there’s a mildly weird moment where Lynne’s crying has clearly been overdubbed to boost its impact, with the original recording still audible underneath). There are fourteen chapter stops, which is adequate for an 89-minute film.

There’s a basic set of extras: biographies of Susan Dey, Piper Laurie and Lorraine Toussaint (the last of these as skimpy as they come), a two-page rundown on the film itself, the theatrical trailer plus three more trailers for other titles in Odyssey’s line-up. Disappointingly, though, given the claims that Sad Inheritance is based on a true story, there’s nothing about that true story, or indeed any documentary material covering the real-life problems that the film seeks to illustrate. But for £6.99 (the proposed RRP), it’s not a bad package.

Michael Brooke

Updated: Feb 27, 1999

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