In "The Long Road Home," Lee Purcell very convincingly portrays a migrant farm woman of the 1930s.

Bessie Robertson is a tough, ever-optimistic woman who's nonetheless worn down by the fate that has befallen her family. Forced off their Texas farm, the Robertsons eke out an existence traveling from harvest to harvest in California.But it's a role Purcell almost didn't get to play - because she's too young and too good-looking.

"There was resistance to my playing the part because of my age and the way I look," Purcell said in a telephone interview. "I know some of the people at the network originally didn't want me to play this part at all."

But she convinced them to sit down and at least talk with her about the telemovie.

"I went in barefoot, in an old dress and with lines on my face and my hair pulled back in a bun," said Purcell, who's in her early 30s. "That kind of handled that."

As a matter of fact, once she started working on "Long Road Home" - which airs Monday at 8 p.m. on Ch. 2 - she was almost unrecognizable.

"People walked right by me," Purcell said. "My son, who's 7, came to visit me and didn't recognize me. He looked at me in total shock and said, `What happened?'

"I told him it was just the makeup, but he said, `Oh, but you look so bad. Are you sure?' "

"The Long Road Home" is a look at migrant workers lives' during the Depression - specifically a look at the fictional Robertson family, headed by Ertie (Mark Harmon), a former rodeo rider and farmer.

The couple has five children, a daughter-in-law and granddaughter - and all are on the road with them.

Living with the injustices inflicted on the migrants, younger son Jake (Morgan Weisser) becomes a union sympathizer. Ertie, urged on by Bessie, just wants to get along as best he can so the family can bring in enough money to make the dream of a home come true.

"The Long Road Home" paints an effective portrait of these people. Through no fault of their own, they were forced out on the road. And they're looked upon as second-class citizens worthy only of distrust, if not outright contempt.

The weakest portion of the movie is its conclusion, with events suddenly happening with no real explanation.

The situation experienced by migrant farm workers during the Depression isn't that far removed from the plight of the homeless in 1991 America.

"There are a great many parallels," Purcell said. "There are thousands of homeless mothers and children out there today, and they all want a stable home again.

"Being a woman and being a parent, I really understood the way Bessie felt. I can understand the desire to have a home and to be safe. There's an enormous amount to relate to in this movie."

And Purcell said she's extremely glad she got the part. It's the first time she's had the chance to play a character older than herself and her first chance to play a mother.

"That meant a lot to me," she said. "I've played a lot of glamour roles. They're nice. They're fun. But they're not very near to my heart."

Her other work includes theatrical movies like "Big Wednesday," "Stir Crazy" and "Valley Girl," and television projects like "To Heal a Nation," "The Gambler" and "Betrayed By Innocence."

She doesn't have any particular preference for movies over television.

"There are really great roles for women in TV and not as many for women in features," she said. "Fortunately, this is changing."

Purcell is particularly unhappy with today's action/adventure films.

"The women in them are basically just a decoration. It's very boring (for) an actress," she said. "But in `Long Road Home,' the character is very multidimensional. It's a great woman's role.

"She's not by any stretch of the imagination a decoration. She's the driving force behind the family."