Having been hospitalised after what the experts tell her was a heart attack, Penelope Keeling (Angela Lansbury) leaves as soon as she can as being surrounded by the noises of death upset her. Following her escape she pays her children a visit including Olivia (Patricia Hodge) who has moved to the Mediterranean where she is living with Cosmo (Denis Quilley) and his daughter Antonia (Sophie Ward). Whilst each of Penelope's children wonder what is best for Penelope as well as their inheritance, including sketches and paintings by her late father, she returns to Cornwall where she grew up and contemplates her life, her marriage, an affair as well as whether she did right by her children.
Watching "The Shell Seekers" was an interesting experience because prior to watching it I had watched the later 2006 mini-series and one of my criticisms was that the storyline felt drawn out in that version. Ironically this 1989 version at times feels like it is rushing things, trying to cram it all into the 102 minutes it runs for. For me it robs the movie of some of the character depth needed to make the build up work and make you understand the characters. In a way it robs the movie of some of its charm because it always seems in a rush to get to some thing more important such as a scene of recollection and bonding between Penelope and Antonia who comes to stay with her.
What this means is that this version of "The Shell Seekers" works best if you are already aware of the storyline. As such when you already know what happens you can follow the storyline which sees Penelope's daughter claiming she was never given any love as a child, a son wanting to sell his grandfather's painting and joining forces with one of his sisters over trying to boss their mother about. And then we have Olivia whose life is complicated by having witnessed her mother's marriage fail but her own feelings to wanting to be an independent woman. All of which ends up tying in to a painting which the children want to sell.
But the thing which this version of "The Shell Seekers" has is the perfect casting in the role of Penelope as Angela Lansbury delivers the sweet side of the character beautifully and can say so much with a look as she can with words. When she asks Olivia to head to Cornwall with her only to be told she is too busy you can feel the disappointment perfectly. But you can also sense her frustration when she visits her son and can see how much control her husband's mother had over him and turned him into a money grabber like his father was.
What this all boils down to is that "The Shell Seekers" is a charming movie which has beautiful locations and also beautiful acting especially by Angela Lansbury. But for me there are times this version feels rushed as if all the scenes which don't feature Penelope are unimportant and in feeling that way the characters of her children end up stereotypes.