NBC (Sun., March 18, 9 P.M. ET)
Director Tony Richardson has mounted a sumptuous, stately version of this oft-told epic melodrama, far surpassing the previous TV version with Maximilian Schell and Jane Seymour in 1983. But Lon Chaney must be spinning in his grave, seeing what a rakish romantic his ghoulish Phantom has become over the years.
Playwright Arthur Kopit’s adaptation offers a new explanation for the Phantom’s disfigurement and for his fixation with the country girl (Teri Polo) who has come to Paris in hopes of becoming a bel canto soprano. Burt Lancaster, as the recently dismissed manager of the Paris Opera House, lends his usual air of refined dignity, and Charles Dance makes an elegant Phantom. But the real zest is provided by Ian Richardson and Andrea Ferreol, who bring great comic verve to the roles of the pompous popinjay of an opera director and his deluded diva of a wife.
This film is operatically long and languorous for prime time—part two on Monday night is a real hump. But NBC has taken the high road in giving this modern classic the miniseries treatment. When you’re Nielsen’s darling, you can afford to be a patron of the arts.