Air Date: Sunday, April 5, 2015, 8pm ET/PT on Lifetime
Lifetime continues to bring V.C. Andrews’ Dollanganger literary series to life with the third installment of the Dollanganger series, If There Be Thorns (Thorns). Make no mistake, there are so many twists and turns in the movie, you may want to re-read the book in order for some of the things that occur in Thorns to be believable.
Taking place many years after the events in the second novel, Petals on the Wind (Petals), Thorns focuses on a new generation of Dollangangers, who adopt the last name Sheffield to mask their true identities. For those unfamiliar with Andrews’ books, the premise of the Dollanganger series revolves around many taboo themes. The most notable and controversial subject is the incestual relationship between siblings Cathy and Chris Dollanganger. Yes, it’s hard to imagine such a story has become a cult classic but the circumstances leading to their romance is the product of an abusive childhood full of death and destruction. In the books, Petals, which focuses on Cathy and Chris’ lives apart, is a big contrast to Thorns, which deals with how they live together and raise their children, Bart Jr., Jory, and Cindy. Of course, this is Andrews’ vision and she rarely writes simple stories.
As a movie, Thorns is a fair depiction of the source material, which is a surprise considering the vivid and disturbing scenes in the book. Fans of Andrews’ books can rest assured director Nancy Savoca, and Andrew Cochran, writer of the teleplay, execute a solid interpretation of the story without exploiting too much of the more salacious moments.
A Whole New World of Dysfunction
One of the best aspects about the adaptation of Andrews’ books to the screen is the stellar casting of each major character. Rachael Carpani as Cathy, and Jason Lewis as Chris are well-suited in not just their appearance but their mannerisms in portraying their characters. There are also plenty of new faces, like Mason Cook, who is amazing as Bart Jr.—the love child Cathy had with her stepfather—and Jedidiah Goodacre, who plays Jory, Bart’s brother by Cathy’s first husband Julian (Will Kemp).
Whereas the major storylines in Flowers in the Attic and Petals take viewers into the complex world of Chris and Cathy’s forbidden relationship, Thorns comes across almost as a reckoning of sorts with an emphasis on the consequences of their relationship.
When we first see Bart and Jory, they are in their early to mid-teenage years. Taking notes from the biblical story of Cain and Abel, Jory is the golden boy, almost literally with his blonde hair and fair complexion, and Bart, the dark and brooding problem child—which is an understatement.
The catalyst that sets off the events in Thorns is the arrival of Corrine Dollanganger (Heather Graham), a mysterious stranger who captures Jory and Bart’s attention when she moves into the house next door. Although it appears she has some nefarious plan, her true motive just may surprise you. Yet, it’s not Corrine who makes an impact on the “impressionable” young Bart but her servant, John Amos (Mackenzie Gray), who creates the most irrevocable damage.
The Omen 2.0
Some of the significant moments in the book deal with Bart’s violence and mental issues. But out of all the story lines in Thorns, it is Bart’s development from innocence to corruption that is the crux of the movie instead of his inherently evil nature in the book.
I wasn’t sure how much Lifetime would permit the producers and writers to depict the graphic elements in the book, but what makes the movie work is Cook’s performance and Savoca’s direction. Bart learning of his dark legacy and true origins is an explosive moment in both the movie as well as the book. What Bart does to his adoptive sister Cindy (Bailey Skodje) is, at times, hard to watch unfold, not to mention the way he pretends to be a good person in order to hide his more sinister side.
Despite Bart’s behavior, observing an insecure young boy evolving into someone who shuts down his emotions is heartbreaking. What Savoca and Cochran manage to achieve, on a small level, is a kind of context behind Bart’s behavior through the use of camera angles that focus on Cook’s face. At times, the angles reveal a bit of humanity—something I think Bart lacks in the books. Cook comes across as wise beyond his years with his dark steely glares; this becomes especially unsettling when Bart embraces a sense of religious fanaticism.
If There Be Thorns isn’t as scandalous as the first book, Flowers in the Attic, or Petals on the Wind, but it does contain melodramatic moments and juicy plot points that make it compelling to watch. Sure, there are soap opera moments, like the majority of Corrine and Cathy’s scenes together, or when Jory learns the pleasures of first love. Andrews’ books are not about certain moral codes, but rather, about the murky side of humanity. As far as the production goes, I appreciate the way Cochran wrote the teleplay with focus and attention to the book’s themes; it makes for a less melodramatic story. That said, Thorns is the perfect setup to the final installment, Seeds of Yesterday. So, when viewing Thorns, consider it a prelude to a more gothic series of future events —if you like a bit of drama with a side of crazy, that is.
Tune in to If There Be Thorns on Lifetime, April 5 at 8pm ET/PT. Find out more about the movie at the official site, http://www.mylifetime.com/movies/if-there-be-thorns, to learn more about the cast, view photos, and watch clips.
Like If There Be Thorns on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/lifetime.
Photo credit: ©2015 A&E Television Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved
© 2015, Connie Allen. All rights reserved.
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