Ken Tucker
February 03, 1995 AT 05:00 AM EST

How pathetic it is that the primary bit of publicity Serving in Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story has received is the news that this made-for-television movie contains the spectacle of a kiss between two women, played by Glenn Close and Judy Davis. Close portrays Colonel Cammermeyer, a career U.S. Army soldier dismissed from the service for admitting that she’s a lesbian; Davis plays her lover. The kiss occurs in the final minutes of the film, and it’s not squeamish-indeed, as smooches go, this one is rather more romantic and earnest than any I’ve seen, say, David Hasselhoff bestow upon a leading lady.

I suppose this is the point at which, as a member of the hydra-headed liberal media conspiracy, I’m supposed to congratulate NBC for its courage in airing a scene of what still, in television land, amounts to illicit sexuality. But really, why should a television network receive kudos for doing what it ought to do anyway, simply in the interests of accuracy and good drama? It is reasonably likely that NBC would have passed on the true-life story of Cammermeyer had it not been a project pushed by no less than Barbra Streisand as an executive producer, with Close aboard as a Classy Actor (and as the other executive producer) who has proven her Nielsen-ratings pull in the two Sarah, Plain and Tall TV movies. Combine major-league star-power with the titillation of a Gen-u-ine Lesbian Kiss, and you’ve got a product that any network might think worth a few protests and the tough advertising sell.

Serving in Silence, based on Cammermeyer’s autobiography of the same name and adapted for television by Alison Cross (Roe vs. Wade), is for the most part precisely the kind of coming-out-of-the-military-closet TV movie that a dedicated soldier like Cammermeyer would want: crisp, no-nonsense, lacking almost entirely in humor, determined to make our Armed Services look good. Close does a marvelous job; to judge merely by the background information provided here, Cammermeyer is probably an ambitious dullard who was booby- trapped by her own belief in such cliches as ”The Army takes care of its own.”

Yet Close forces us to be interested in this woman beyond the details of her legal case. (For the record, Cammermeyer was honorably discharged in 1992 and reinstated into the National Guard in 1994. That decision is still under government appeal.) The highest-ranking officer to be discharged because of sexual orientation, a Vietnam vet whose devotion to duty was so great that her ex-husband was awarded custody of the couple’s four sons, Cammermeyer comes across as an ideal protagonist for prime-time television: honest, idealistic, patriotic, and blessed with a really nice smile.

<p. Thus, the only truly subversive element in Serving in Silence is Judy Davis, who not only makes her character’s sexuality seem actually sexy, but who also manages to portray an artist without making her a melodramatic bore. I mean, the hell with that kiss — Davis renders even her first handshake with Close a sensuous come-on, and as Diane Divelbess, she’s a sapphic flirt of the first order.

As directed by Jeff Bleckner (Hill Street Blues), Serving in Silence is low-key and assiduously tasteful, a model example of TV programming that has it both ways: teasing you with its controversial theme while congratulating you on your maturity for tuning in. It’s a well-crafted piece of work, but it also makes me want to watch an episode of Benny Hill or The Kids in the Hall or Absolutely Fabulous to be reminded that TV can deal with various aspects of sexuality without having it seem so tidy or nerve-wracking; it can also be messy, low-down, and fun. B+

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