Thursday, November 29, 2012

Sarah, Plain and Tall Trilogy

Not too long ago I met a young lady who when I mentioned I was from the state of Maine exclaimed that she'd always wanted to visit there after reading the Sarah, Plain and Tall books and watching the films. As my sister didn't remember the movie, and it had been a while since I'd seen it, we re-watched Sarah, Plain and Tall (1991) and each re-read the book (read my book review).

Sarah, Plain and Tall and Skylark are films that my family have watched countless times through the years - put simply, they are classics to us. Re-watching the first film brought back so many memories and reminded me of how much I love these films! Although I've only seen the first film recently I wanted to review these films as a trilogy and highly recommend them to anyone who hasn't had the privileged of viewing them.

Story: When Kansas farmer Jacob Whitting puts an add in the newspaper for a mail order bride he gets more than he bargained for when strong-willed Sarah Wheaton from Maine. Sarah writes letters with Jacob and his two younger children and promises to come visit for one month to see if she can "make a difference" in the lives of the widower and his family. Sarah is plain and tall and comes wearing a yellow bonnet and bringing her cat Seal and stories of her seaside home with her. As Sarah tries to fit in she finds Jacob is still grieving for the loss of his wife leaving young Anna and Caleb to mourn alone. Although everyone wants this relationship to work out will the differences between them and their states be too great?

Script: Author Patricia MacLachlan helped write the teleplay of her book and did a wonderful job of using almost all of the dialog and thoughts from it. There are a few extra plot twists added in such as Anna being rather prejudiced against Sarah and Jacob needing to get over his deceased wife and a bit more interaction with the neighboring families. But since it was the book's author who added these elements in they are in keeping with the story and we can't complain too much. :)

Actors In Their Roles: Glenn Close stars as Sarah Wheaton and captures the spirit and language of the character so well, this role shows a completely different side to her acting abilities. Christopher Walken, better known for his more villainous roles, surprisingly brings great heart, warmth and fatherly care to his role as Jacob Whitting. As Anna, young actress Lexi Randall had some hard emotional scenes to play but she handled them fantastically well, a perfect Anna! I've heard some harsh criticism about young Christopher Bell's bad acting in this film but I find that some of my scenes usually have Caleb at the heart of them - he's just so cute and so sweet!

My Thoughts: I love everything about this film from the acting, to the script, to the singing, to the soundtrack music, to the scenery to the heartwarming story! 

Sarah Plain and Tall Photos: 


Story: Set two years after the events in Sarah, Plain and Tall, a series of challenges test the resilience of the Witting family's bond. With a drought and the possibility of fire looming over the Kansas farm, Sarah takes the children East to her old stomping grounds in Maine while Jacob stays behind. Water abounds in Maine and the children enjoy meeting Sarah's brother and the three unmarried aunts they stay with. The change of scene and an unexpected separation put a strain on everyone, including husband Jacob, and there's some things that just can't be said in letters.

Actors In Their Roles: Most of the actors from Sarah, Plain and Tall reprise their roles again for this film. Sarah's brother William is portrayed well by James Rebhorn, truly he's perfect as a lobsterman and a Mainer! The three aunts of "unclaimed treasures" - Lou, Harriet and Matty - are played wonderfully by Lois Smith, Elizabeth Wilson and Tresa Hughes. The three aunts bring such warmth and fun to the story and are probably my favorite bit about this film. Actor Lee Richardson also does a wonderful job portraying Chub who is such a fun character!

My Thoughts: This is probably my favorite of the three films for several reasons. Although the drought and fires are horrible this film portrays Maine and Mainers better than I've ever seen it in film or on TV and a lot of that has to do with it being filmed on location there! The aunts, William and Chub have such life and fun in them you can't help but love them. And it's wonderful to see the relationship and love of Sarah and Jacob tested and found to be strong.

Skylark Photos:


Winter's End (1999)

This third and final episode of the Sarah, Plain and Tall series takes the story eight years beyond the original tale, and is set in a harsh Kansas winter of 1918. With the specter of death everywhere: soldiers are dying overseas during World War I, influenza is at epidemic proportions in the U.S., an old man has returns to the Witting farm with an uncertain reception. He's John Witting, father of Jacob, and the two men have not seen each other since John abandoned his son years ago. When Jacob breaks his leg he must accept help from his father to run the farm and a blizzard sweeps across the prairie threatening all of their lives bringing the question will the Witting family survive long enough to see reconciliation come about?

Actors In Their Roles: Amazingly all of the original actors came back for this third film and it's especially interesting to see Lexi Randall and Christopher Bell as grown up Anna and Caleb. Later Disney star Emily Osment is quite adorable as young Cassie. And Jack Palance portrays Jacob's gruff father.

My Thoughts: This is my least favorite of the three films. When it first came out in 1999 my family and I were already huge fans of the first two films and this one seemed to us a halfhearted attempt at a sequel but I later found out that Winter's End is based upon Patricia MacLachlan's book Caleb's Story and that the Sarah, Plain and Tall director Glenn Jordan came back to direct this film. For me this film is just okay. As much as I love the Witting family the heartache of an influenza epidemic  wounded soldiers, fever ridden Jacob and a half frozen Sarah are a bit too much for me to truly enjoy the story. Also I felt that hating and yelling at his father was a bit out of character for the gentle farmer Jacob. Also I didn't like the acting as well in this one - Christopher Bell as Caleb is still very sweet but his acting skills are poor and Jack Palance as John Witting annoys me with his breathless style of delivering lines. The story ends well but the family has to go through so much heartache that it keeps me from truly enjoying the film.

Winter's End Photos: 

Trilogy Costumes: From Sarah's yellow bonnet to Jacob's dirt covered overalls, every detail on the costumes in each film is very accurate to the time period. Sarah's costumes are particularly lovely in the Edwardian style and I love her hairstyles.

Trilogy Scenery: All three films were filmed on location in Osage, Kansas, Stonington (on Deer Isle), Maine and at a railway museum in Grand Island, Nebraska. The scenes include prairie landscapes and Maine seascapes. Every scene is a feast for the eyes!

Trilogy Music: Original soundtrack music was composed by David Shire for all three films. It is fun, sweeping and sweet by turns and fits each scene perfectly.
Singing is very important to the Witting family and there are three lovely old folk songs that are sung in Sarah, Plain and Tall: Billy Boy, Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies and Sumer Is Icumen In (click on song titles to listen on YouTube).
In Skylark during Sarah's birthday party she and Jacob waltz to an old recording of the aria M'appari tutt'amor from Friedrich von Flotow 's opera Martha. Tenor singer Enrico Caruso recorded the song in 1906 and again in 1917 (listen on YouTube here) putting the song well within the time period. The aunts also play some piano pieces.

My Recommendations: There is no swearing (as far as I can recall) and only a few scenes might be considered slightly scary to young children. In Sarah, Plain and Tall there is a scene of childbirth and a hail storm. In Skylark there is a barn fires and coyotes. In Winter's End there is a bad blizzard and some sickness that might cause concern among very young children. I highly recommend all three films in the trilogy for children and adults alike, growing up these films were as much family films and as watched as Anne of Green Gables movies! If you've never seen these films before I hope you get a chance to very soon because you will love them!

Also of interest: Patricia MacLachlan wrote five books in the Sarah, Plain and Tall series, they are: Sarah, Plain and Tall (1985), Skylark (1994), Caleb's Story (2001), More Perfect Than The Moon (2004) and Grandfather's Dance (2006).

Which of the three films is your favorite? 

Have you read any of the books by Patricia MacLachlan?


Michaela said...

Awwww, I grew up on these movies! Thanks for bringing back the memories. <3

Melody said...

I guess I like Winter's End because Cassie makes me laugh so much. ;-) She wasn't in the other ones and I saw that one first, and have good memories watching it with my family. :)

Eliza said...

I love Winter's End. That is such a lovely movie. I have seen all three movies but I'd say that Winter's End and Sarah, Plain and Tall are my favorites. Skylark is good as well but not a favorite.

Crafts4others said...

I like Sarah, Plain and Tall the best out of the movies. I have not seen all of the third movie, but it didn't seem that good to me. Same thing that happened with the Anne of Green Gables series, the last one wasn't too good. I have not read any of the books by Patricia MacLachlan, but I might need to add them to by list.

Anonymous said...

I can tell you for a fact that Sarah's house in Maine (where she walks on the beach) is not on Deer Isle, but in North Brooklin. It is my house they rented to film in!

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