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Airing: Sunday, April 30, 2000
9 to 11 pm on PBS
(Check local listings)

A popular television star gives up her glamorous career to start a home for disturbed children in Seeing Red, a true story based on the life of British actress Coral Atkins.

Sarah Lancashire plays Coral, who was a thirtyish star at the height of fame in 1970s swinging London when she had a life-transforming experience. While attending a charity event at a children's home, she chanced across a little girl crying hysterically. "I wouldn't bother with her," a staff member advised the actress. "She does that now and again."

But Coral decided on the spot to open a home that would bother with just such children. The incident rekindled terrible memories of Coral's own childhood of deprivation and beatings by a caregiver in rural England, where she and her sister were evacuated during World War II.

Image of childrenBased on Atkin's 1990 memoir, Seeing Red charts the harrowing, amusing, poignant, improbable, and nightmarish adventures that ensue after her fateful decision.

"Coral, you haven't got a proper home of your own," a colleague scolds her as she embarks on her quixotic project. And it's true: Atkins is divorced from her abusive husband and already overextended trying to bring up her young son, Harry (Joe Gunn). But she is a woman with a mission and a fervent belief that there are bad parents and bad social workers, but no bad children. The theory is put sorely to the test by youngsters such as the compulsive handwasher who floods the house, the pyromaniac who has burned down every place he has ever lived, and other unruly cases.

But her biggest battle is with the bureaucracy that insists on replacing love, security, and stability with rigid rules designed to reunite families no matter what. Getting children back with their parents may look good on paper, but too often it means returning them to the frontlines of neglect and abuse.

Image of Atkins with 2 other womenAs Atkins struggles to undo the damage of past trauma inflicted on her wards, she must wrestle with her own past, symbolized by the haunting last night she spent with her father before she was sent to the country for safety during the war. He read her "Little Red Riding Hood," a story that she loved and identified with because of her own red cape. But the next day she found herself delivered up to the wolf, in the form of a witch-like woman who would be her cruel guardian for the next three years.

In 1997 Coral Atkins was seriously injured in a car accident and had to give up running her home. Today she shares an apartment with Donna, the first girl she took in.

On the subject of her career switch so long ago, she recently told the British press: "If I'd carried on acting I'd probably be a tired, worn-out old actress reading my old cuttings books. I do feel that I've done something with my life and I have never regretted my decision to open a children's home. I'm so lucky to have had those children in my life. It has been a privilege."

Seeing Red | Cast and Credits

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