Made for TV movies with made for TV actors and musical entertainers turned thespians are just not supposed to be that good. But leave to Dolly Parton of all people to change that paradigm, and change it she did in 2015 when the first installment of her Coat of Many Colors movies aired on NBC and became the highest-rated TV movie in 3 years.
Those numbers and the critical acclaim of Coat of Many Colors made the second installment called Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love appointment television Wednesday evening (11-30) for many Dolly Parton and country music fans, and for folks who’ve been wondering where quality television that the whole family can watch has gone in recent years.
But who knew that the entire event would take on a special, double meaning due to recent events. Circle of Love had a meta moment in its script when the “painted lady” that Dolly Parton has spoken about often throughout the years as inspiring her flashy style shows up, and is played by Dolly Parton herself, while also interacting with the young Dolly Parton in the story portrayed by Alyvia Alyn Lind. Similarly, real life tragedy came to Sevier County, Tennessee where the Circle of Love story is based, and on the eve of the movie’s airing in a similar way the on-screen tragedy unfolded.
Sevier County has seen its fair share of hardship stories over the years, but nothing in recent memory as serious as the Smoky Mountain wildfires now deemed responsible for the deaths of seven individuals, and the damage or destruction of some 700 structures with 17,000 acres burned, including some cabins serviced by Dolly Parton’s Sevier County theme park, Dollywood. Though Dollywood was spared the worst of the damage, the fires have shut the resort down as many park employees and their families help themselves and their neighbors through the tragedy.
The Circle of Love broadcast began and ended with Dolly Parton in front of the dolled up entrance to Dollywood glowing with Christmas lights and sparkling in regalia, without a single leaf out of place or any imperfection to be found. Meanwhile on television news and the internet, the images of the burned out communities in in Sevier County like Gatlinburg and others from the wildfires that came within meters of Dollywood were still fresh in people’s minds. Though the tragedies that transpire in the Circle of Love movie center around a Christmas blizzard and a blowout of a coal mine, the message of the movie was so similar and so poignant to the present-day events, it could give one shivers.
Just like Coat of Many Colors in 2015, Circle of Love cut some of the sappiness and sentimentality out of the faith-based story by instilling it with real-life tragedy directly from Dolly Parton’s family story. These are not fairy tales, and as real and resonant as Dolly Parton’s signature songs have been now for generations of country music listeners, so are the stories when fleshed out in dramatic form. And the willingness by Dolly and the writers and director to allow the characters to not just bask in the lessons and love in the resolution of the story, but to sense doubt in their faith, and have to face down tragedy in gritty scenes usually omitted from such TV and faith-based films makes it something even the agnostic viewer can appreciate.
Circle of Love probably didn’t have the same strength of script as the first installment Coat of Many Colors did, but just as the first movie brought out the best in Jennifer Nettles’ mother character, this second movie gave Ricky Schroder as the father those moments to show his chops, along with Mary Lane Haskell, who portrays Dolly’s teacher Miss Moody and received an expanded role in the second movie.
But moreover, it was the recent events on Dolly Parton’s doorstep in Sevier Country that brought the story of the fragility of life, and the importance of taking care of each other at the core of Circle of Love to the forefront, and once again proved that Dolly Parton is nothing shy of a divine figure of the Southern American experience.