4 out of 5
An imaginative mind is what has kept young Mathilda “Tilly” Bassett from becoming any more despondent than she already is. Her family is just now beginning to deal with their husband and fathers’ death, each in their own way. Only now, there is little money to put anything grand on the table, let alone pay the rent on their small farm. Tilly’s mother (Helene Joy) is a very private woman who doesn’t want her children to know about her past. When Tilly (Taitana Maslany) learns that a wealthy socialite whose husband was well-known in the silk business may be her grandmother, she acts quickly by writing a wildly urgent letter falsely claiming they’re starving and that gypsies have kidnapped a family member and signs it in her mother’s name. Entrusting the safe delivery of the letter to a friend who has been away at college, Tilly awaits his return and news that her grandmother will help them.
Shortly after Gideon’s (Kristopher Turner) return, Tilly and her siblings (Vivien Endicott Douglas, Gage Munroe) have the biggest surprise of all when their grandmother, Isabella (Jacqueline Bisset) sweeps into town and not only upsets their own home but the small community in which they reside. Little do any of them realize that what began as a request for financial security may turn out to be not only a blessed Thanksgiving, but a rediscovering of family for everyone. A Hallmark Channel original movie which played last holiday season, there isn’t anything remarkable about this except that it’s a sweet film that may become a family tradition. Based on a short story by Louisa May Alcott, there are many reflections of her previous book-to-screen adaptations, while somehow remaining unique on its own with simple messages.
Hallmark is well-known for bringing respected family-safe films to television, and while there have been few exceptions that I was disappointed to discover weren’t by my estimation age-appropriate, this film is a tender, moving story that is wonderful for anyone looking to find something new this upcoming holiday season. Perhaps one reason of caution comes when Tilly visits a sort of altar where she places a statue and asks things of. While never made perfectly clear, it’s understood that the family does share a strong faith. A story is told in anger about a woman snaring an older man and securing her wealth by having a child. There are a few insults hurled between mother and daughter and Isabella flings rude remarks towards her deceased son-in-law whom she disapproved of. Tilly often becomes defiant towards her mother and/or grandmother, which she always is later sorry for. Illness claims the life of one man and another person nearly dies. There are a couple of innocent kisses between sweethearts.
Made with a limited budget, in places this really shows. The outdoor landscapes are lovely, most especially when covered in snow and depict small town living well. While the Bassetts’ home is a simple, warm farmhouse, grander structures were excellent choices for filmmakers to have sought out or created, whichever it was. The main point of disappointment comes in the costumes, which apart from an exception or two were mediocre but at the same time is what one would expect. The one scene that is visually stunning in terms of costume design occurs during the Hopkins’ family ball. Even without an extravagant costume design, this film remains impacting, partly because it deals with past sorrows in a healthy way, but mostly because it serves to remind us of a time when the simplest of joys meant the most.
As with dozens of other titles, this story has its share of sappy moments, but they didn’t stop me from enjoying it for what it is. Where my delight ended was with the somewhat abrupt and bittersweet end to an otherwise enchanting movie. Interspersed within the tale are hints that suffice to “prepare” the viewer for the ending, but still having seen the character’s previous decided contentment and an acceptance of another kind, it still throws the audience a bit, especially considering Miss Alcott’s previous adaptations. Both Little Women and The Inheritance may have bittersweet events beforehand, but each end in happily-ever-after and the way filmmakers filmed the final scene made it less-than-pleasant to imagine such an eventual conclusion. One positive is the casting. The only popular name most will recognize is veteran Jacqueline Baisset, but each of the supporting stars turn in a noteworthy performance. I liked that they each “looked” their part -- being both dressed and styled accordingly; the Bassett family was natural, not glamorized as most actors are in such parts and appeared as the “normal” family they were intended to be. So many casting directors simply cast a beautiful or handsome face without thinking if they are really right for the part. These actors portrayed their parts convincingly well, those who weren’t supposed to be as highly educated and those who were. Young Gage Munroe gave a wonderful performance as a pesky little brother and was the audience’s source of laughter. Altogether, this was a really sweet story that should be -- and thankfully can be -- enjoyed by families looking for a story that is more than just a gorgeous cover art or catchy tagline.