The last week of November is usually a time for happy activity—cleaning up the Thanksgiving leftovers and officially pulling out the Christmas decor. For superstar Dolly Parton, however, the days leading up to December have been somewhat less than shiny. Massive wildfires overtook her beloved Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, destroying hundreds of homes and just barely sparing her nearby Dollywood amusement park.
This unhappy time comes, ironically, with the debut of Parton’s latest feel-good made-for-TV movie, the sweetly sentimental Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love, which airs Nov. 30. While the timing may seem less than ideal in the face of such a disaster, the message of the movie—miracles can happen—serves as a necessary beacon of hope.
The movie, which focuses on Parton’s own childhood memories during the Christmas season of 1955–is the follow-up to her wildly successful Coat of Many Colors, a production that attracted a whopping 13 million viewers in 2015.
When Parton first explored the idea of dramatizing her childhood memories, she claims she was hopeful but “didn’t anticipate” just how major of a chord it would strike. “I was so overwhelmed and touched by how many people watched Coat of Many Colors ,” she notes. “Since Coat Of Many Colors did so well, I told NBC and Warner Brothers and [producer] Sam Haskell some of my Christmas memories that I thought would make a great movie. So we decided we would make a Christmas story.”
Parton explains that the story is centered around two events that take place during her family’s Christmas activities back in 1955: “We wanted to earn enough money to get a wedding ring for our Mama–she’d been married all those years and never had a ring. And the next part of the story is a story about a Christmas miracle that happened when we got snowed in with a blizzard, and trapped in our house for four days and almost froze to death.”
The original cast—which includes Ricky Schroder as Parton’s dad, Jennifer Nettles as Parton’s mom, and 9-year-old Alyvia Alyn Lind as “Little Dolly” herself—returns for the second production, a reunion that Parton gleefully terms “was so much fun.” In a twist that is even more fun than that, Parton—who narrates both films but did not appear in the first one—shows up as part of the cast.
Her role? “The Painted Lady,” otherwise known to more blunt types as more of a tramp.
This should come as no surprise to longtime fans of the superstar, who has related many times over the decades her adoration for that particular “lady’s” colorful look. “When I was little, I patterned my look after the town trollop,” Parton notes again, with a chuckle. “I thought she was beautiful…all her makeup, hair, her tight clothes. So I thought, I’ll play the painted lady.”
Parton is hoping that her forays into her childhood memories will result in a series devoted to family and faith-based programming—“kind of like Little House on the Prairie”–a market she feels is underserved. While these plans are still in development, one thing is sure: The Christmas special will be followed by a third production. This one’s also certain to make fans happy, as it’s a movie focusing on the tale behind Parton’s classic 1973 hit, the oft-covered “Jolene.”
And yes, despite Parton’s devotion to family-friendly material, the characterization will be exactly as the song dictates. As the singer aptly notes, there simply is no other way to tell the story. “She’s got to be Jolene. She’s got to be what she is—a whore,” says Parton, matter-of-factly.
Despite the positive vibes her Christmas special will undoubtedly bring to fans across the nation, the tragedy of the fires on her beloved home turf is still weighing heavily on Parton’s mind. “I am heartbroken,” she noted in a statement issued on Nov. 29. “I am praying for all the families affected by the fire and the firefighters who are working so hard to keep everyone safe. It is a blessing that my Dollywood theme park, the DreamMore Resort and so many businesses in Pigeon Forge have been spared.”
Perhaps a prayer from each of the millions of viewers sure to tune in to the new movie will bring a spark of hope to Parton, and all those affected.
Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love airs on NBC Nov. 30 at 9 p.m. ET. A DVD of the film is scheduled for release Dec. 20.