A Lifetime Original Movie
Air Date: Saturday, January 18, 2014
Before Bella got it on with Edward in Twilight or we learned who Christian “Kinky” Grey is, tweens of the 80s had Flowers in the Attic. The salacious and controversial material written by V.C. Andrews is a story of incest, torture, and religious fanaticism set in the 1950s. It became an immediate bestseller when it debuted in 1979, much to everyone’s surprise, and is now reemerging for a new generation as a Lifetime Original Movie. So, better hold on tight because there’s nothing cut and dry about this interpretation of the book.
First things first, if you watched the original Flowers In the Attic movie from 1987, just know that while the premise remains the same, a whole lot is different in this latest incarnation. The most apparent change is the story’s timeline. The 80s version of this story takes place in the present, whereas the book, as well as Lifetime’s adaptation, are set in the 50s. It doesn’t seem like a big deal at first but as the story progresses, it explains a lot of the characters’ motivations and actions.
Flowers in the Attic is the tragic story of the Dollanganger children, whose idyllic lives are turned upside down when their father dies unexpectedly. Their mother, Corrine (Heather Graham), seeks a solution to their financial problems by reuniting with her rich family, the Foxworths. The catch? She has to win back her father’s favor in order to cash in her inheritance. The problem? It appears daddy Foxworth (Beau Daniels) hated Corrine’s choice of husband, which means the children, Cory (Maxwell Kovach), Carrie (Ava Telek), Cathy (Kiernan Shipka), and Christopher (Mason Dye), must stay hidden to avoid his wrath. If that isn’t bad enough, their grandmother, Olivia Foxworth (Ellen Burstyn), is one hell of a religious zealot. So the Dollanganger children are confined to live their days in the attic of the illustrious Foxworth Hall estate—as if they never existed.
What Lifetime has done better than the previous screen adaptation is stay faithful to the book. That alone sets up the context for all the events that lead the Dollangangers going to Foxworth Hall, as well as the overall outcome. Knowing that Corrine is a housewife in the 50s with no technical skills or talents other than being “pretty,” it is easy to understand why she resorts to moving back home. It is also obvious how sheltered the children are, especially the eldest ones, Cathy and Christopher. Cathy is headstrong and determined—a daddy’s girl with an edge. Shipka does a great job of showing Cathy’s resentment towards her mother with just a look. You don’t need to be a mind reader to understand how she feels. Meanwhile, Christopher is a good natured boy with dreams of becoming a doctor. Dye is a perfect casting choice if for no other reason than he looks every bit the part of his literary counterpart. Both Shipka and Dye have a genuine onscreen chemistry that help lessen some of their more controversial scenes.
What starts off with good intentions on Corrine’s part turns out to be a nightmare. It’s interesting how a house can start to reflect the people who live in it. From the beginning exterior shot of Foxworth Hall, the mansion appears simple and grand, yet there’s a coldness about it too. Graham does a great job of not making Corrine into an all-out monster, despite the atrocious things she does to her children. Burstyn also avoids playing Olivia as an all-out villainous character with subtle breaks of emotions on her face. There is a reason Burstyn is an Academy-award winning actress, and Flowers in the Attic is just another reason why she is such an acclaimed talent. You want to hate Olivia but you can’t entirely because just as she does something to make you scream, she shows a bit of kindness.
Aside from the abuse at the hands of the adults, what Flowers in the Attic is most known for is the romantic relationship siblings Cathy and Christopher develop as a by-product of their long-term confinement. Now, here’s where I feel Lifetime gets it right. There is never a rush to throw Christopher and Cathy together; if anything, there’s a lot of resistance to their feelings. As budding teenagers with no sexual education whatsoever, they are left to figure out their feelings alone. Sure, they both acknowledge what they eventually feel is unnatural, but they are being conditioned to feel as if they will only have each other. In no way does this condone or even suggest that incest is ok. Far from it, it shows how ignorance and abuse can distort people’s emotions. Flowers In the Attic doesn’t sell itself as a fairytale but its scandalous nature makes it hard to look away, especially because children are involved.
I love this adaptation of Flowers in the Attic not only because it brings back memories of secretly checking out V.C. Andrews’ books from the library. What I appreciate most about the movie is its attempt to do justice to the book, something the previous movie didn’t do. It was poorly received by critics and fans alike, and the incest plot point in the book was never mentioned in this adaptation. Also there is great attention to detail, from costumes and makeup to set design in the movie. It makes you feel like you are living in the 50s.
Over the years Flowers in the Attic has become a cult classic and there’s a reason why. The taboo subject matter is just one part of the movie’s success. You either go with the original story or risk failing entirely by deviating from it. Lifetime’s choice of going all in with some of the scenes and the incestuous plot point proves daring; it’s a risk that pays off. Kayla Alpert, the writer who took up the challenge of adapting Andrews’ book to screen does an excellent job of maintaining the core of the original story.
The ensemble cast is another highlight of the movie, and are spot on in matching their respective characters. Burnstyn and Dye are great scene-stealers, particularly in one scene towards the end that involves a recitation of bible verses. Graham also does a great job of channeling Corrine’s vanity, greed, and cruelty with eerie precision.
In the end, Flowers in the Attic is as shocking, scandalous, and addictive as it was back in 1979. Lifetime’s version is more intriguing and less melodramatic than the original material. Although it’s still an outrageous story, there is at least a more conscious effort to make the villains (Corrine and Olivia) more developed and sympathetic to a degree. My only disappointment is how quickly the movie ended. Considering that Flowers in the Attic is part of a series, the open-ended nature of the movie leaves you wanting to learn more. Luckily, we won’t have to wait too long to find out the fate of the Dollanganger family. Lifetime recently announced its plans to develop the second book of the series, Petals in the Wind, into a movie.
Follow Flowers in the Attic on Twitter @lifetimemovies using the hashtag #FlowersintheAttic. Plus be sure to add the cast too: Dylan Bruce (@DylanBruce), Heather Graham (@imheathergraham), Mason Dye (@MasonDye_), Kiernan Shipka (@kiernanshipka).
All photos © 2013 Lifetime Network. All Rights Reserved.
© 2014, Connie Allen. All rights reserved.
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