Scarlett (1997) 


I'd wondered about Hallmark's adaptation of the novel sequel to Gone With the Wind since it first premiered on CBS several years ago. After extensive searching of the net, I turned up no reviews on content so decided to hold my breath and take a plunge, hoping it wouldn't insult either my intelligence or beliefs in moderating viewing habits. The result provided me with an interesting five hours that all too often strayed off the straight and narrow. The content in this film runs it aground, while the storyline remained unsatisfying on several levels. It's not as good as the book.


It is the day of Melanie Wilks' funeral and Scarlett O'Hara (Joanne Whalley) is the single controversial face in the group of dark-clad figures who surround the grave. Making a spectacle of herself in attempting to keep Ashley from breaking down, she's encouraged by her uncle to leave Atlanta for a time to let tongues and tempers cool. Since she is unable to persuade Rhett (Timothy Dalton) to remain with her, she takes his suggestion to heart and leaves for Tara. But the relationship between herself and Sue Ellen is a cold one. Once her beloved black slave Mammy has died, Scarlett sets out to reclaim Rhett Butler. In a moment of brilliance she pays a visit to his mother in Charleston, swiftly winning herself into the woman's good graces and making a few steadfast friends among the upper aristocracy there. But with Rhett's return to his mother's home, Scarlett must accept the fact he fully intends to divorce her. With one card left to play, she makes him a deal... if he will play the dutiful husband in the duration of the season, she will leave his mother's home and never return. Rhett agrees.


A moment of passion after a boating accident assures Scarlett that Rhett still has feelings for her, but in the light of day he has gone, having resolved never to see her again. She must hold to her part of the bargain... and is forced to leave, but this time travels with her aunts to visit her aging grandfather, little knowing she is pregnant with Rhett's child. While living in her grandfather's luxurious house and putting up with his ill-humors, Scarlett roots out her Irish family and befriends her cousin Colum (Colm Meaney), a Catholic priest. Once the divorce is final, Scarlett is determined to raise her child in secret, praying it will be a girl to replace Bonnie, the daughter Rhett adored. She packs her bags for Ireland, swiftly becoming popular among the natives.


Unknowingly she enters into the good graces of a wealthy but cruel Englishman (played by Sean Bean) when she purchases from him the sprawling estate of Ballyhara. Little does she know soon her plans will be torn asunder... for Rhett has married again. As one might assume from reading the above, Scarlett is an intensive and fast-moving miniseries with many plots that weave in and out, ending just as another begins. Thus said, it could have been told better and in half the time. I would have preferred leaving Rhett out of the main limelight entirely, since on his part he brings a dark side to the table.


There are a few glittering moments -- mainly in Ireland -- but for the most part this is your typical easy-sex, misguided attempt at justifying romantic persuasion the original Scarlett O'Hara would have been appalled with.  The film is okay for awhile but then veers sharply into a soap-opera sideline which doesn't resemble the original characters in the slightest. I've always loved the original and felt no cast could hold up as well to the chemistry of Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable. I was right. The new actors seem strangely out of place -- Joanne Whalley is no follow-up to Leigh; she doesn't have nearly the enthralling sense of power as Leigh's Scarlett. Her eyes aren't even green! Timothy Dalton does reasonably well as Rhett. Sean Bean plays a horrifyingly evil English Earl, and Colm Meaney's tryst as an Irish priest is extremely likable. But the writers have confused sexual attraction with lasting romance and made a miniseries that manages to scrape through sensors with only the slightest item of conscience. Of course having aired on a major network, they can't get away with full-fledged love scenes or nudity, but the suggestion of them is more than enough.


There are numerous occurrences where we glimpse unmarried people in bed, several sensual kissing scenes that give the illusion of nudity without showing "too much," rampant innuendo, cleavage, and two instances of implied rape. There is also a disconcerting scene involving the birth of Scarlett's child with a great deal of blood, and several violent acts. A man is shot at point blank range and killed; his body is dumped in a gorge. A woman awakens to find the man in her room has been stabbed; we see the actual stabbing later in a flashback. Many scenes include both physical and verbal abuse; language is moderate with many minor profanities and a few stronger ones (including one of each "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!" and "Sweet Jesus!").


The film is a bad one morally. It strays a long ways from being convincing to remaining lackluster and obsessed with itself. Scarlett is nothing like her former self -- she has changed entirely, willing to jump into bed with an English earl she hardly knows. Ashley plays a very minor role, and Tara no longer matters. Our disbelief that servants would not intervene and prevent their paying mistress from being raped is incredible. Thus said, certain aspects were enjoyable. I enjoyed seeing Scarlett stand up to her grandfather and refuse money in favor of family; I adored seeing the Irish countryside; I also grew to love the somewhat restrained Colum, who is torn apart when he realizes he is in love with Scarlett; the costuming was gorgeous.


The film is just enthralling enough to keep you to the bitter end. You want to see what comes of Colum's plans for a rebellion. You want to find out if Scarlett and Rhett ever get back together. You want to see the nasty Earl get his dues, and feel not a shred of regret once he does. But the sensual and inappropriate aspects of the miniseries, as well as the complete lack of emotional change in the leads make Scarlett live up to her name.

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