October 19, 1998 12:00 PM

Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover, Thandie Newton, Kimberly Elise, Beah Richards

Featured attraction

The house is clearly haunted. Tables shimmy, floorboards rattle, mirrors crack, and the very air itself is tinged with a reddish glow. A child died violently here, and she won’t rest in peace. Viewing the house’s fiery light warily from the front porch, a visitor (Glover) asks, “What kind of evil you got in there?”

“It ain’t evil,” replies the dead child’s mother (Winfrey), an ex-slave who owns the house. “Just sad.”

Overwhelmingly sad. Beloved movingly tells the story of the enduring and unendurable grief besetting Winfrey’s character, a woman who ran away from slavery but can’t outrun its legacy. Also affected by this legacy are her two daughters, one of whom is lost in this world (Elise) and the other in the next. Years earlier, Winfrey had, Medea-like, tried to kill her four children rather than let them be reclaimed as slaves. She succeeded with her baby daughter Beloved, fatally slashing the child’s throat. Now, in 1873, a beautiful but seemingly backward young woman (Newton) appears. Winfrey comes to believe Newton is Beloved returned. Mother and daughter are reunited but at a terrible cost.

Based on author Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1987 novel of the same name, Beloved is as faithful an adaptation as Morrison could have wished for. Directed with understanding and care by Jonathan Demme (Philadelphia), the movie features knockout performances by Winfrey (Is there nothing this woman can’t do well?), Elise and Glover. But, as is the case with nearly all movies made from great books, this one never hits the full emotional and metaphorical highs of the novel. At times, Beloved is confusing, and—with a 174-minute running time—its pace often seems self-indulgently stately.

Still, this is a movie that haunts you just as surely as Beloved haunts her mother. Days after seeing the film, you will find yourself going over scenes and characters and making connections you hadn’t made while sitting in the theater. A movie that can do that is a movie of rare power. (R)

Bottom Line: Great Oprah; impressive (but not quite beloved) movie

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