Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that last night marked the world premiere of Flowers in the Attic on Lifetime. Fans have been waiting 30 years for a decent adaptation of this powerful book. Is the wait over?
FITA became a bestselling book in the 1980s, so naturally a movie adaptation followed. Despite a strong performance from Louise Fletcher, the film was disliked by critics, fans and anyone else who read the book. It became infamous for being bad.
Fans were thrilled when Lifetime announced their intentions to do their own adaptation, and I was chief among them. So how does this new film stack up against the old one? More importantly, how does it compare to the book?
In the Attic
The movie began with the prologue from FITA, much to my delight. This introduction was changed a little. We found Cathy on film at age 12, not 7, and got thrown into the ill-fated birthday party pretty quickly.
The grief scenes were shortened, though the key dialogue was left intact. Soon enough, we were arriving at Foxworth Hall. This scene was copied almost perfectly for the film, giving viewers an introduction to evil grandmother Olivia Foxworth.
The first day and week in the attic were captured almost perfectly on film, but after this we engaged in a quick fast forward to get through the next three years.
The narrative stopped long enough to show us the lake scene, and of course the Christmas party. The twins were mainly background noise but for a few key lines (I was thrilled when Carrie claimed the food was "cold and greasy"), and Cory's death didn't have the same impact. The tar scene and Christopher's whipping scene were both changed, but only slightly.
All the dramatic reveals came at the right time, and in the end the three surviving Dolls escaped on a train (not a bus as they should). At the end of FITA, Corrine is happy with Bart. The Grandmother is bald. Cory is gone for ever. But we're out of the attic.
Rumor has it that Lifetime will also be adapting Petals on the Wind, the next book in the series. I'm most looking forward to seeing Julian if this is true.
In all, a faithful adaptation - though not perfect. Fans now have a much better adaptation of this important book, at last!
It was a good adaptation. But I wouldn't be a fan if I didn't point out every flaw.
- Wardrobe: On the whole, the wardrobe was true to the period and true to the characters but a lot of details were screwed up or omitted. I saw Corinne wearing pearls in just one scene, and she never twisted them or messed with them (and we all know Corinne couldn't keep her hands still). Even more importantly, Olivia had no brooch! The diamond brooch with 17 stones that Cathy carefully counted was gone. Olivia wore pearls instead, and it was all wrong. Olivia's hair was also far too soft and pretty. We all know she skinned her granny bun back with ferocity. Also, Cathy's hair wasn't long enough. There's no excuse for this; weaves are easy to apply.
- Cast: I was pleased with the cast from the word go, with just one exception: Heather Graham as Corinne. Her hair isn't flaxen, it's strawberry, and though she has the necessary beauty she really doesn't have the acting chops to pull off the role. It's visible on film. The character has no depth, and it rings hollow throughout. We never saw real love, so the ending wasn't really shocking. Ellen Burstyn was sublime right until the end, where she has a nervous breakdown that (one guesses) is meant to humanize Olivia. It just comes off as insane.
- Sets: The house in Gladstone, PA wasn't what I pictured, and the backyard didn't have a big tree. In the beginning of the story when Cathy learns about her father, she runs outside and beats up a tree. Fans deserved to at least see that tree, considering that the whole scene was cut. The interior of the house, including Cathy's room, did look pretty perfect. The attic and the bedroom also looked pretty good, though I saw an appalling lack of "dark, ponderous furniture." The television set was misplaced, and I was disappointed in the attic decorations. They didn't look as described in the book, and the film didn't spend enough time focusing on them. It's the title of the work. How could you cut corners on tissue paper?
- Props: If you ask me, props make the film. And considering that they're such a big part of the storytelling, they're important. Lifetime failed here in a lot of little ways. I never saw the Monopoly game and we never saw any specific book titles, though we all know Cathy read Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights and many other classics. Most importantly of all, the doughnuts. We only saw them once, and we saw them on a plate. This is incorrect. The doughnuts were wrapped in foil, and they magically appeared in the picnic basket at the end of the starvation. We never saw the Swan Lake costume, Christopher's medical stuff or any of Cory's musical instruments.
- Story: It's perfectly understandable that to turn a novel into a movie, some things must be condensed. Some things must be skipped. But some things were changed in this adaptation that should not have been. In this version, Cathy and Chris clearly have consensual sex. However in the book it's much murkier. He's more forceful, and the experience is born more of anger and frustration than love. The love doesn't really come until much later. In the attic it's all quite confused and unclear. We never had the almost-fatal scissors accident, and the hair scene was changed so we never saw Chris with Cathy's hair. The movie didn't establish the shifting, confusing parameters of their relationship and didn't devote enough time to the feelings they're both experiencing -- so when the romantic element is introduced, it feels weird and abrupt. Lifetime didn't do a good enough job of showing the time passing, either. Everything seems to happen one thing right after another, and it becomes hard for the audience to follow. The attic changed with the seasons; Lifetime could have easily used this as a device to show the time going by, but did not.
The wait is over, the reviews are in. Now I've got to go watch the movie 19 more times! Thanks for joining me for Flowers in the Attic weekend. Come back this week for new Writing101 posts, plus a special announcement about my newest book!