This three-hour TV biopic of actress Natalie Wood emulates Citizen Kane by beginning at the end -- the tragically ironic drowning death of the water-phobic actress in 1981 -- then recounts her life story in flashback. Justine Waddell plays the adult Natalie, with younger performers Elizabeth Rice, Candice Moore, and Nadia Scappa portraying the actress in various stages of childhood, adolescence, and puberty. Although little Natasha Gurdin's Russian-born mother and father (here played by Colin Friels and Alice Krige) had drive and ambition, it was the girl herself who energetically and enthusiastically promoted her career as a child star named "Natalie Wood," and it was Natalie herself who demanded that producer stop casting her in cute-kid and ingenue roles and take her seriously as an adult -- even before she technically was one. Naturally, the film recounts Natalie's marriage to actor Robert Wagner (Michael Weatherley), the breakup of the union as she pursued affairs with the likes of Warren Beatty (Matthew Settle), and Wood and Wagner's ultimate reconciliation and remarriage. One might assume that the "mystery" of the film's title is Natalie's death by drowning -- to this day, no one quite knows how she managed to end up in the water -- but it also manifested in the enigma of Natalie herself, a woman who despite her aggressive and unending pursuit of fame and stardom might well have willingly given it all up just to be a wife and mother. In fine old Hollywood-biography tradition, the movie boasts an endless parade of celebrity lookalikes impersonating such friends and colleagues of Natalie Wood as James Dean, Edmund Gwenn, Marilyn Monroe, and directors Irving Pichel, Elia Kazan, and Nicholas Ray, as well as several real-life celebs offering their reflections on the film's protagonist, notably Margaret O'Brien, Robert Vaughn, and Henry Jaglom. Directed by no less than Peter Bogdanovich, The Mystery of Natalie Wood first aired over ABC on March 1, 2004.
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