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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

DVD Review: When Calls The Heart

When Calls The Heart is a Hallmark Channel film directed by Michael Landon, Jr. It takes place in 1910 and tells the story of a young woman named Elizabeth (Poppy Drayton) who wishes to become a teacher and is offered a position in a remote town out west. It also tells the story of her Aunt Elizabeth (Maggie Grace), who when younger also accepted a teaching position in a small town out west.

The film opens with a very brief scene of trouble in a coal mine, then abruptly switches to an affluent family at dinner, emphasizing the contrast. Mr. Thatcher proposes a toast to his daughter Elizabeth, “Who has chosen the most noble profession a woman could choose.” Elizabeth has decided to become a teacher. She has two sisters – one of whom is married and will disappear for the rest of the film, the other of whom, Julie, craves adventure.

Thomas Higgins offers Elizabeth a position in a good local school, Weston Primary School, in return for certain sexual favors (only hinted at, not spelled out). Elizabeth tells him plainly, “I’m only interested in a teaching position.” So, perhaps as punishment, he finds her a position in a remote frontier town. There’s a wonderfully funny moment where Elizabeth and her parents consult an atlas with a magnifying glass to find the town. Her father says, “It’s west of here,” turns the page, says “Still further west,” then finally spots the town.

Julie is excited about the idea of heading west because there are outlaws there. She reads romance novels, and a lot of her notions seem to have originated in their pages. Elizabeth sneaks into Julie’s room one night to borrow a romance novel, but instead discovers a diary kept by her Aunt Elizabeth.

As Elizabeth reads the diary, we get a flashback to her aunt arriving in a town and meeting a handsome man named Wynn (Stephen Amell). Elizabeth puts the diary down, saying “I can clearly see where this is headed…It’s no different than a romance novel.” That’s a nice touch, since of course that’s precisely what we’re thinking as we watch. But of course she keeps reading.

Julie challenges Elizabeth to prove she could manage out west without the comforts of home by living for one week in the old groundskeeper’s cottage – to eat, sleep and cook her own meals there, without any help from the staff. It’s not all that exciting a challenge, as the stakes are low, but it gives her plenty of time to read. So we spend more time with Aunt Elizabeth, who has trouble at first at her new job. The man she met turns out to be related to one of her students, leading Elizabeth to actually say, “The plot thickens,” a cliché made more sad by the fact that at this point there really isn’t much of a plot at all. Then, when Aunt Elizabeth describes putting down a mouse trap, Elizabeth throws down the diary, exclaiming, “This isn’t a love story! It’s a horror story!” Not quite. But perhaps the very young women that this film is aimed at will think so.

Though this film is decidedly tame, this a certain amount of warmth and charm, particularly in the second half. I like the moment between Julie and her mother (played by Cheri Lunghi, who was an excellent Beatrice in the 1984 BBC production of Much Ado About Nothing) regarding the wager. Julie admits she doesn’t want Elizabeth to leave home.

Elizabeth’s love interest is Edward (Daniel Sharman), who is described early on as a carefree, wild individual. But when we meet him, he’s quite serious in his Mountie uniform. Julie says he’s a bore now, but Elizabeth is clearly struck by him. And when halfway through the film, Elizabeth finally decides to take that teaching position, Edward acts as her escort.

When Calls The Heart is based on the book by Janette Oke. The teleplay is by Michael Landon, Jr., who also directed the film. The DVD includes the film’s trailer.

When Calls The Heart aired on Hallmark Channel on October 12, 2013, and was released on DVD on December 31, 2013 through Millennium Entertainment. A television series based on the film will begin airing on January 4, 2014.

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