...because if you haven't seen the Lifetime movie or read all the books, you shouldn't whine about my review of the movie spoiling the secrets. Lol. So get over it, and stop reading this if you want to find out the hard way (and the more rewarding way -- the books are so much more entertaining than a blog post about them). Spoilers here from Garden of Shadows as well, so be warned.
I watched the new movie on Lifetime last night, and I enjoyed it because they stayed fairly close to the original plot in the book. Ellen Burstyn actually did a fine job of making the grandmother, Olivia, seem human. Angry, bitter, vengeful, and actually fearful, and yet, a flawed and broken Yankee woman who grew stronger from her many fracturings. (I only mention the Yankee part because V C Andrews used that to characterize her as a sensible and practical woman, with Southern women painted as vapid and frivolous by contrast.) She, too, has a history that makes most of her actions understandable, and maybe even seem justified, because she wasn't dealt a fair hand in her life. By the time she has the power to take control, she's too hardened by her life's many injuries to simply be kind.
I love that in this version, the grandmother actually warned the children beforehand that the powdered sugar doughnuts were their mother's idea, and she recommended that the children not eat them at all, because they would be bad for their health.
Of course, the powdered sugar was laced with arsenic to kill them, which was the mother's plan when her father's will threatened her disinheritance upon her having any children. She would rather be filthy rich with her handsome new husband and no children to drag her down, even if it meant killing her children. What a horrid, detestable woman.
Who was worse, really? The grandmother or Corinne? Olivia was betrayed by nature, society, and her husband, and punished for her envious thoughts with the loss of her father, her sons, and any possible tenderness from her husband, who was, admittedly, a handsome monster seething with his Oedipus Complex. Yuck.
Corinne was spoiled rotten by everyone in her life but Olivia, and when faced with a choice after Christopher's death, decided to abandon and then murder her children so that she could keep her frivolous wealthy lifestyle. She only seems capable of loving men who will cater to her self-centeredness. She seems to have inherited all of the bad character traits from her parents: her father's determination to get what he wanted no matter who he crushed in the process, and her mother's vain beauty, without a speck of her mother's true sweet, kind, giving nature. Corinne is skilled at painting her face, though it is truly a mask hiding her father's manipulative monster.
Obviously, I'm not saying that Corinne is Olivia's daughter, because she isn't. Malcolm raped Alicia, therefore Christopher Garland Foxworth, his half-brother, is actually the half-brother of Corinne. Corinne and Christopher G run away and get married, Corinne is disinherited (she thinks it's because she fell in love with her half-uncle, ha ha ha... oh brother. *snicker*), they have four children, and when they go to Foxworth Hall after Christopher G's death, have no CLUE why the grandmother is always preaching that they are evil from birth, demon spawn, have hidden deformities, and accuses them of incest.
Well, now that you've locked them in a room alone during puberty and given them the idea.... Sheesh. It's no wonder she is so afraid of them!
Ellen Burstyn's portrayal of Olivia manages to be more than simply cruel and mean -- she's self-righteous, but absolutely terrified of the children who she placed in this predicament in the first place, and ultimately God-fearing because of her hand in not preventing all of this. She could have prevented the entire disaster if only she had worked on her own feminine insecurities (with her husband, who might or might not have allowed her that success, but she never even tried), and her absolute jealousy of Alicia. If she had attempted to befriend Alicia (who did try to befriend her), Alicia would have confided in her that Malcolm was pursuing her, and might have brushed off some of her soft, sweet, charming nature onto Olivia so that she would have more feminine wiles to appeal to her husband.
Her claustrophobic attack in the closet stairwell was too dramatic at that point in the story, because it was never explained how she had become so, as a punishment meted out by her own mother. Give her a little frailty because it rounds out her character? Sure. They did well showing her brushing out her wig, but the claustrophobia seemed to be too hard an attempt to flesh out her character at the very end.
Malcolm claimed to hate soft, pretty, charming women because they were just like his abandoning mother, but he was completely undone by them. Putty in their hands. Olivia could have learned from this and modeled herself more in that direction, but no, she just had to remain steadfastly and precisely the iron bitch he claimed he wanted in a wife. She made no attempts to be likeable to him because her feelings were so hurt over his failure to pursue her romantically. That's her fault. He could have been a much better man, and she could have been a better woman, and who knows? It could have all worked out okay for them, eh?
Except for that sick, desperate love for his mother that obviously bordered on the obscene. Maybe Mother Corinne fled Foxworth Hall to get away from young Oedipus there, knowing exactly what was going on in his head. Garland blamed Malcolm, after all, and didn't seem to blame his first wife for running away. Odd, isn't it? Too bad there isn't a prequel to the prequel to know just what happened with twisted young Malcolm to drive his mommy away forever.
The book ended a bit differently than this version of the movie. In the book, they used their handmade key and sneaked down the back stairs to freedom. They didn't climb down from a rope that breaks before they are down, as in the movie. There was no electrified fence, and they didn't encounter anyone. In this movie, not only did they bump into a servant with a gun, they told him they were Corinne's children and he shut off the electricity to the fence and helped them escape.
If this servant is the butler in the house, named John, I'll bet he is Olivia's cousin John Amos, who knows the secret that Corinne has children, and later on holds it over her. That's a perfect setup for the third book, If There Be Thorns. Cleverly done. They could have done better on the hook for the second novel, Petals on the Wind, if they had shown the scene on the bus, and meeting Paul. I've heard they're already deep into planning the second movie already. Maybe they just couldn't decide on an actor to play Paul yet.
I started reading these books when I was 12. Just as the second book came out, my stepmother decided that they were too racy for me, and kept them for her own reading, knowing it was desperate to find out what happened next. AAARGHHHH! I was so disappointed and angry, because I already knew more than I could have learned from reading in those books. Reading was my sole escape from my reality. My imagination conjured up far worse than those books, and usually in my dreams. Yikes!
Fortunately, my stepsister figured that they couldn't really damage me any more that what I'd read in the first book, and sneaked me the other three. :). Thanks a million... Nothing bugs me quite like not knowing how a story ends. I don't consider myself any more twisted for having read the whole series. They weren't exactly wild stories. In fact, this particular movie version lacked a certain amount of sensational thrill, though it didn't skimp on the story as the original movie had.
(Don't tell on my stepsister! She was being a pal! Thanks, and happy birthday to her today!)