April 29, 1994 at 04:00 AM EDT

Alan Gurganus’ best-selling novel was extremely long, but not as long as Oldest Living Confederate Widow, the TV movie, seems to be. The first two hours of this production do a good job of condensing Gurganus’ sprawling narrative about Lucy Marsden (Diane Lane), the widow of Captain William Marsden (Donald Sutherland), a Confederate veteran of the Civil War. The story of their courtship and marriage is told in flashback by an elderly Lucy played by Anne Bancr’s elaborate soap-opera stuff, but beautifully performed by Lane and Sutherland, who sports a carpet-thick beard that turns Santa Claus-white as the miniseries progresses.

The second night of Confederate Widow is, however, as tedious as the first night is entertaining-a weary slog through every smooch and spat the Marsdens had. Still, the Lane-and-Sutherland storyline is a lot more engaging than the contemporary interruptions featuring Bancroft’s life in a nursing home and her cutesy flirtation with a senior citizen played by E.G. Marshall. Give the first part a B and the second a D, and Widow gets a C.

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