December 17, 1993 at 05:00 AM EST

Tyne Daly is the jailed mom of five children in ‘Dreams.’ An honest attempt at a fact-based period piece, Scattered Dreams cannot overcome the basic miscasting of its main roles. Tyne Daly, who can’t help but convey intelligence, and Gerald McRaney, who always seems too gruff for his own good, play Kitty and George Messenger, who we are supposed to believe are a poor, kind, uneducated couple in 1950s rural Florida. Early on in this TV movie, the couple is jailed on a trumped-up fraud charge, and when they’re released 18 months later, the Messengers discover that their five kids have become wards of the state.

The illiterate Messenger parents struggle to educate themselves about the legal system to fight for custody of their children. Daly and McRaney aren’t very believable, but Alicia Silverstone, as the Messengers’ daughter Phyllis, is first-rate as a likably headstrong brat. And if Karen Croner’s script is full of hollow uplift like ”Don’t let anybody make you feel small,” Neema Barnette’s direction does a good job of capturing the way small, powerless people often feel. C

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