12 February 2005 | rsoonsa
Drifts Away From The Original At Crucial Points.
The fourth essay at converting Geneva (Gene) Stratton-Porter's most popular novel for the screen, this version conflicts markedly with the original story while yet managing to make a faithful adaptation of the book's pre-Great War era in a visually appealing film, with beautiful southern Oregon locations standing in for the author's eastern Indiana setting. Stratton-Porter is inserted into the scenario as the "Bird-Woman" of the Limberlost Swamp region, here played sensitively by Joanna Cassidy, and the naturalist writer's endeavours with camera, notebooks, and glass photographic plates is accurately rendered, even to a mention of her watercolour tinting for illustrations in a published volume of nature studies, but there are significant alterations in the characters of Elnora Comstock (Heather Fairchild) and her embittered widowed mother Kate (Annette O'Toole) that result in flaws of logic surrounding their actions. Since this product comes from Feature Films For Families, it was possibly deemed discreet to eliminate the important reference to Elnora's father's marital infidelity, but nothing is provided here to replace it in context, while the omission of the neighbouring childless couple, the Sintons, with their supportive counsel of Elnora; and of Phillip, beau of the young farm girl, are unfilled voids. The dramatic act of Kate that results in a climactic clash between mother and daughter is weakly altered and Fairchild's sporadic Valley Girl diction and mannerisms are not harmonious with O'Toole's more accurate dialect, especially since the two have lived only with each other since the girl's birth 16 years prior, but Fairchild nicely interprets Elnora's struggle to balance her desire for self-improvement with her loyalty to her mother and to their tax-endangered farm. Direction is pedestrian, and a minimalist score is nonspecific, but the sets and costumes are splendidly crafted.