Hallmark Channel chose wisely when it commissioned Stranded
as a two-part miniseries inspired by the 1813 novel The Swiss Family Robinson.
And executive producer Robert Halmi Sr. made a wise move in returning to a more realistic drama, after the string of disappointing fantasy miniseries he's recently produced for the Big Three TV networks — shows like Dinotopia
and The Tenth Kingdom.
The project's title is more appealing to an audience attracted to Survivor
and Cast Away, though there's no standout Tom Hanks-like performance here. Still, Liam Cunningham does turn in a strong acting job as patriarch David Robinson.
The two-parter wastes little time on the courtroom scene in which David is sentenced to nine years in an Australian penal colony for refusing allegiance to England. His wife Laura then says the family will go, too.
Before the first half-hour is over, we've seen the family survive a severe storm that wrecks their ship and forces the cruel Capt. Blunt and his henchmen to abandon ship. In one last cruel blow, Blunt takes the Robinson's youngest son Jacob with him, while the family tries to free their daughter Sarah, trapped below.
Soon Blunt and his crew hook up with — and eventually seize — a pirate ship.
The story switches periodically from the Robinsons's life on a deserted but lush isle to Jacob's life among pirates.
Photographed beautifully by Ryszard Lenczewski on location off Thailand, much of part one's drama deals with the sons Fritz and Ernst as they develop their independence, much to the old-fashioned father's consternation.
Cunningham's David and Fritz (Jesse Spencer) are the most interesting characters in the opener, but Blunt (Roger Allam) and Jacob (Andrew Lee-Potts) contribute an emotional scene near the finale.
Part two, which picks up the story seven years into the family's island exile, begins with the most striking visual, the Robinsons's elaborate tree house, created by production designer Gary Williamson.
The sons soon spot a ship offshore and then come upon a young woman, Emily — a kidnap victim who has just escaped from Blunt's pirates.
Ultimately, the two story threads meet as the pirates arrive to disrupt the Robinsons's Utopian life. Jacob and Blunt share some surprisingly heart-tugging final moments, after which things unfortunately do get a bit hokey.
Hallmark has set Stranded
for 9 p.m. on June 15 and 16.