Cora Unashamed (10/25; 9 to 11 p.m.; Channel 13), adapted by Ann Peacock from a story by Langston Hughes, is the first of nine films in which American writers, including Henry James, Willa Cather, Eudora Welty, James Agee, and Tennessee Williams, will get the high-gloss “Masterpiece Theatre” treatment. Cherry Jones is an Iowa matriarch in the thirties whose social ambitions result in the death of her daughter. Regina Taylor, the breadwinner for the only black family in town, is the housekeeper who must speak the truth nobody wants to hear. You will not see two better performances on stage or screen anywhere this season. (Encore presentation 10/29.)
The Last Dance (10/29; 9 to 11 p.m.; CBS) brings back Maureen O’Hara for the third time in one of those CBS movies of the week intended to warm our hearts no matter what, as a retired and widowed schoolteacher whose failing health takes her to a hospital just in time to save the marriage of Eric Stoltz, the staff nurse who was once her student. By the numbers, but the buttons they push light up emotions it’s nice to know we still harbor.
When Andrew Came Home (10/30; 9 to 11 p.m.; Lifetime) requires Park Overall to save her young son (Seth Adkins) first from an abusive father (Carl Marotte) and then from psychologists, school administrators, and state bureaucrats whose only solution for that abuse is to wish the child away to an institution. Inspired, of course, by yet another true story. And we’ve been here before, often. But the screenplay by Susan Rice has remarkable sinew – even a saving sarcastic humor – and Overall brings it savagely home.
A History of Britain (10/30, 10/31, and 11/1; 9 to 11:30 p.m.; History Channel) follows around the encyclopedically opinionated Simon Schama on his lavishly appointed BBC rounds – from, roughly, 3100 B.C. to Elizabeth I, with a lot of bone-picking and grave-robbing, through Romans, Vikings, Normans, Henrys, Richards, a Stonehenge here, a plague there, and Shakespeare in the wings. Schama, who has written nifty if often wrongheaded books on Holland, the French Revolution, and landscape and architecture (and is awfully hard on William the Conqueror), has the amiable eccentricity British TV loves. For all six hours, he comes on like a polymath cross between Woody Allen and Lyle Lovett.