In the mood for a classic film that will steal your heart, make you pine for winter holidays, and believe in second chances? One Special Night (1999, made-for-television movie, available on DVD) might just do the trick. On the night before Thanksgiving, two grieving adults—Catherine Howard, a pediatric cardiologist (the ever-elegant Julie Andrews), and Robert Woodward, a general contractor (the ever-handsome James Garner)—who have regularly passed by each other without ever meeting, are brought together by a November blizzard. Catherine regularly visits the hospice nursing facility where her husband Tom stayed until his death from prostate cancer. This special night, she is sitting quietly in his old room. Robert’s wife, Marybeth, is a patient with Alzheimer’s at the same facility. Marybeth doesn’t recognize Robert any more, but that doesn’t prevent him from visiting her regularly.
The daughters of Marybeth and Robert—Jaclyn and Lori, along with Lori’s son Michael—have gathered with their father in Marybeth’s room to bring her home for Thanksgiving. When Marybeth begins to scream, believing that Robert is attacking her, the three take his SUV and head home, leaving Robert with Marybeth and her nurse. Eventually he decides to head home and calls for a taxi, but since the roads are quickly filling up with ice and snow, a taxi isn’t coming any time soon. Anxious to return to his family, Robert ungraciously accepts a ride from Catherine who, it turns out, has a love affair with an old red Jaguar that her father gave her when she graduated medical school at UCLA, a place of sunshine and sand rather than snowstorms and salt-covered roads. Robert’s disdain for Catherine’s driving does not go unnoticed by Catherine. When the car skids off the road, they blame each other. Robert finds an abandoned tractor, expertly hotwires it, they hop aboard, and the argument continues as the snowstorm intensifies until they can hardly see the road.
They glimpse a log cabin at the edge of the woods and head in its direction. When it’s apparent no one is home, Robert breaks a window to give them entry. Catherine is mortified by this behavior. The power is out and the phone is dead. With no other options in sight, they make themselves at home and get to know each other, even care for each other. He suggests she warm up by the fire and she tends to a bleeding cut on his hand. Robert puts together some boxed macaroni-and-cheese for their dinner, and in front of a crackling fire they enjoy a bottle of wine and a game of Scrabble. They share their imaginings about the couple who own the cabin. They hold hands and gaze deeply into each other’s eyes, but then Robert feels guilty and Catherine remembers what she’s missed most about her husband Tom.
Rescued the next day by Lori and her husband Jeff, Robert and Catherine plan to meet for chocolate chip pancakes the following weekend at Murrays’, a place they both know well. Catherine shows up, but Robert does not, leaving Catherine sitting alone with her pancakes.
Why doesn’t he show up? I won’t spoil the plot for you by telling you what happens next, but this is surely a warm, comforting, must-see holiday romance. Directed by Robert Young, One Special Night is the third collaboration between Julie Andrews and James Garner; their chemistry together is apparent. Robert’s initial abrasiveness is well-matched by Catherine’s strength and independence and, as their characters come to know each other, the warmth and attraction between them become evident. The dialogue is quick, charming, and a little unexpected, as Robert likes to tease Catherine with little lies that he knows she won’t believe. The movie, filmed in Montreal, offers a stunning array of winter wonderland scenes. The music supports the mood and creates just the right atmosphere for each scene. Check out One Special Night! It will make your holiday heart sing, and—just maybe—make you believe in second chances.