Where, o where did all the charm go?
I am ever a fan of Hallmark movies. Feel-good, light, warm, endearing, romantic, Christmasey, mysterious, sometimes a touch of heartwarming drama… all these adjectives and more. Though predictable in many ways, I love that they feature an ensemble of recurring cast members fun to spy out in the best of offerings – the way classic films do. “Oh, that’s the lady who played in Chesapeake Shores!” you might suddenly recognize in their eyes and smile, even should they have changed the color of their hair. Lately, I’ve fallen for the various mystery series with regular characters too. It’s part of the cozy charm.
Erin Krakow, lead in Finding Father Christmas is one of those whose name always signals – this is going to be one of the ones I will watch time and again! And this time? She is starring in a production drawn from a Christmas novella I’ve read and savored at least three times, over three seasons. How could it miss?
Last night, I found out.
They say that someone who has so experienced a book always has a hard time with the movie version – it can just never match up. I think that is often the case…however I also count several old films that made me sit up and say aloud, “Oh, they’ve caught the book so exactly!” Treasures like DuMaurier’s Rebecca, Bronte’s Jane Eyre.
While Finding Father Christmas, the novella, may not be in the category of such great literature, Robin Jones Gunn’s often lyrical writing in this story envelops the reader from the first page. And central to all of it’s charm, scenes of transformation in the characters, beauty of scenery and setting is all where the story takes place – in merry, warm, cozy old England.
So…My first disappointment with last night’s Hallmark offering of this charmer? Reading the TV guide description as a story set in Vermont, New England.
Huh? I thought, on a sinking feeling. Why not England, I wondered? It should be perfectly feasible, even on a low budget.. After all, I’ve loved other Hallmark movies set in France, Ireland etc.
Well, New England could be cozy… I love that setting too. Be open minded,” I admonished myself.
Then… the opening scene. Erin Krakow, as Miranda, high-powered executive type with her own assistant. Typical of Hallmark branding, definitely. Argh...but not of Gunn’s Miranda.
The Miranda I remember reading about was a loner, broken in spirit since losing her mom as a child, working in an ordinary everyday job but trying to figure out where she was meant to go in life. Although the movie tried to interject the idea that Miranda “hid out” at Christmas time, avoided friends, was still hurting from her childhood… somehow this did not seem the same from the get go.
That’s okay, I told myself. They can still make it the same idea… even in Vermont. She can arrive at a cozy tearoom there that could be similar to England…
But…um, no tearoom, central to the unfolding of the written Miranda’s journey, in this movie. In the book, Miranda is staying in a hotel, alone and bereft, but in seeking out a clue that has led her from America to search out her father’s identity, is led to a village somewhat away from London. Snow swirling, she ends up in a quintessential tearoom where she is immediately drawn into lives unbeknownst to her who intertwine with her own…
The movie however places Miranda in a B&B in a scene where it almost seemed forced to bring in the homemade scones, and no one was British. The entire setting, the interweaving of characters and how Miranda enters into their stories – which unfolds her own — completely changed.
Key to this change was the Hallmark centering on budding romance. Though this character really never arrives in the novella until the last few pages, setting the scene for the sequel of romance, I was fine with that. The actor, Niall Matter is appealing, the character realistically woven. I enjoyed the warm chemistry between Krakow and Matter immediately. A natural fit.
Throughout the film, I kept trying to watch impartially… see through the eyes of a non reader who did not know the story. Overall, I would recommend it as pleasant Christmas fare, cute in many ways, enjoyable to watch.
But for anyone who has read the book – watching the movie is like seeing it in skeleton.
Oh, the plot line is there. But so much else… isn’t.
In the novel, a huge part of the transforming takes place in a beautiful old country mansion (somehow translated to a much simpler, cute little house in the film) where Miranda is swept in as a welcome after-theater guest and is about to uncover the secret in the photo that has brought her to England. Here, she is a stranger, but at the same time is made to feel part of these people she has just met in wondering ways.
Unable to leave due to a blizzard, she stays overnight…leading to a growing intimacy with the children,family, and British Christmas tradition of the home. Tender and pivotal scenes I recall in the book – how Miranda has never known a Christmas stocking or the joys of a very British one with it’s special chocolates, Crackers you pull etc. and awakes to find Father Christmas has not forgotten her, how the young 5-ish Julia forms an endearing relationship with her and they sneak down the stairs together, discover the wonder of a winter wonderland scene that has covered the landscape overnight, how the family weaves her into their lives and English Christmas celebration — these simply vanished from the movie version.
The movie does attempt to intimate certain of these moments – that little Julia (for some reason a bit older in the film) somehow takes to Miranda for no explainable reason, gives her a stocking etc. (though Miranda never stays overnight in their house) but they are so fleeting and awkward – as though just “stuck in” to reference the book in some way — that it really doesn’t come across.
There is a beauty in Gunn’s story that is completely just — not there — in the film. The book is a heartwarming tale of a young woman finding family and real relationship with them before she even realizes they are really a part of her. It is a story of following clues to finding healing. (Romance to come in sequels.) The friendship she forges with young Julia, the getting to know each of the characters, the finding of a true home she has always longed for, the wonder she discovers in this almost storybook setting – that’s what makes the novel one I have returned to so many times.
My Rating: As a Hallmark movie, similar to previous movie scripts and enjoyable enough, beautiful scenery, warm acting. I loved the music in background.
But as a book adaptation, I can only say… truly disappointing. Lacking all the charm. I don’t enjoy writing negative reviews, but in this case, if I had seen this movie before reading the book, I would never have bothered with the novella. It just doesn’t convey the richness and would not have sparked me to get hold of the book.
SOoooo… again I say, to anyone who loves a charming read, DO treat yourself to Finding Father Christmas, the novella by Robin Jones Gunn! I’m looking forward to checking out her new third novella in the series…
© Pam Depoyan
Read my book review of this title here: Finding Father Christmas