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This was a true tour de force performance from Lee Remick. She brilliantly captured the madness that was Frances Schreuder. It was clear that Frances had psychological problems and that they stemmed from early on. The miniseries begins with Frances as a college student at the all women's Bryn Mawr. We can see from the onset that Frances is a mentally unstable woman. She and a college chum go to a bar one night and Frances meets a patron named Vittorio and eventually marries him. He is the father or her two sons, Lorenzo and Marco.
Frances hailed from Utah and is the daughter of a wealthy, yet frugal, businessman named Franklin Bradshaw. Frances' mother enjoys the finer things in life, like Frances does, but her father is a very simple, no frills man. This annoys both mother and daughter, especially the latter. The family knows Frances has mental problems, but they seem to overlook them and hope that Frances will be OK. After all, a son was in a mental hospital and was even lobotomized. The mother coddled Frances, while the father was less sympathetic. As for her own children, Frances favored her younger son, Marco, and treated the elder, Lorenzo, with much contempt and little love.
Frances is a woman who lives beyond her means and for this and for other reasons, she becomes unhappy in her marriage to Vittorio and gets out. Soon thereafter she marries a Dutchman named Schreuder. That union doesn't last very long, but she retains his surname and changes her boys' names to Larry and Marc Schreuder. She's still living beyond her means in New York in a squalid apartment and begins to scam money from her wealthy father. She enlists her sons to carry out these swindles and clearly prefers money to the genuine love between mother and son. Frances becomes closer to Marc, her youngest son, and literally pushes eldest son Larry away because she feels he is mentally unsound. (Ha, what irony!) He is sent off to a military school. Larry becomes unhinged himself and stabs a roommate there and is committed to a mental institution.
Meanwhile, Frances is putting younger son Marc up to murdering her wealthy father. Marc is reluctant to do so, but his relentless mother keeps pressuring him. Frances is hooked on pills, booze, riches (when she clearly can't afford them), and the company of attractive men, sometimes far younger than she. She was totally selfish and didn't care about the upbringing of her boys or about much else besides advancing in New York's social elite. And to do that, she gets her sons to steal checks from her father and cashes them in. Her father discovers this fraud and writes Frances out of his will. (He dies before his updated version is notarized and Frances remains in his will as they go by the existing one. Frances' maniacal smile when she knows she is still in says it all.)
Frances pressures Marc to kill her father and he obliges to keep the peace with his volatile mother. He goes to Utah and surprises his grandfather at his business. Bradshaw is not happy to see him, considering the fraud he and his brother pulled the previous summer, and he expresses his discontent with his grandson's presence there. With that, Marc raises his gun and fires. Marc returns home to New York and Larry, who's been staying with his Bradshaw grandparents, is a logical suspect. He is eventually ruled out. Most think it is a robbery and Franklin's widow and Frances' mother resigns herself to this conclusion. But Frances' sister Marilyn is not so readily accepting of the police's and the popular conclusions about her father's murder. She suspects Frances all along. She meets with Dick Behrens, a good friend of Frances' over the years, who was privy to Marc's murder of Grandpa Bradshaw. Dick agrees to give Marilyn the murder weapon in his possession if she in turn agrees that she won't say where she got it. Marilyn abides by the agreement at first until she is pressured enough by the police and cracks. The police see Behrens and he eventually incriminates Frances. Frances is arrested at the posh Manhattan apartment she shares with her mother and her daughter that she had by her ex-hubby Schreuder. Frances is a total weasel when she is arrested and we see a woman who was so influential and so manipulative of her two sons in this instant become a pathetic coward.
Remick's Schreuder was a convincing psychopath and Remick effortlessly transformed from a charming woman to a chilling, volatile nutcase who abused family members and did the unthinkable: enlisted her son to murder her own father for financial gain. Schreuder thought she could get away with it, especially because she had her mother on her side, but she didn't after she angered her old friend Behrens when she screwed him out of $3700. She ended up in the slammer where she belonged, and the final scene shows her being led to her cell. Marc was also in jail, while Larry remained in an asylum. Small wonder as they were raised by an unloving, selfish psycho.
Remick's performance in Nutcracker was a powerhouse and she perfectly played Frances' charm; sophistication; humor; madness; deviance; and absolute psychosis, which culminated in her enlisting her son to murder her father. Though the subject matter was disturbing, it was an enjoyable miniseries for Remick's masterful portrayal. Tate Donovan and Frank Military were good as the sons, and Inga Swenson was effective as Frances' sister, as was G.D. Spradlin as Franklin Bradshaw. But this is to be seen for Remick and she should have won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Special that year. I can't see any other performance having been superior. That is as crazy as Frances Schreuder was.
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