When Calls The Heart is probably my favorite Janette Oke book. The romance is giddy-making. It is completely charming. None of that translates into this adaptation.
Two Elizabeths. There are TWO Elizabeth Thatchers. Viewers are first introduced to a spoiled Elizabeth Thatcher living in luxury with her family. Great emphasis is placed on her closeness with her sister, Julie. This Elizabeth Thatcher receives a teaching assignment to Coal Valley, I believe. She is out of sorts with what to make of this. Does she want to leave life-as-she-knows-it behind her? Does she want to go out West? Does she have the inner strength and resources to be independent and all grown up? Her sister, Julie, is intrusive and obnoxious. Julie decides that she must go out of her way to convince her sister to stay home, to turn the job down. There is nothing Julie won't do to convince her sister to stay by her side. Julie turns to her good-friend-and-probably-boyfriend, Edward, who has recently become a Mountie, for help. Together, surely, they can pull enough pranks to make Elizabeth stay. During this time, Elizabeth finds a hidden, oh-so-secret diary from ANOTHER Elizabeth Thatcher. This is a never-spoken-about Aunt who essentially vanished from the family and was never heard from again...after she conveniently left her diary behind in their possession. Julie has read the diary. Now Elizabeth is reading the diary. By the end, Edward has read the diary too. The Elizabeth-in-the-diary is supposedly THE Elizabeth Thatcher from Janette Oke's When Calls The Heart. True, this diary-Elizabeth isn't really shown having a family...HER family having been given to her niece...(Jon, Julie, etc.) But the diary-Elizabeth does have the Pine Springs school, and the diary-Elizabeth does have Wynn.
Flashbacks and Framework. It's not that movies within a framework and rich in flashbacks are impossible. The problem here is that they missed everything that truly made Elizabeth who she is. They've focused on humiliation. Let's all laugh at Elizabeth. But the charm is gone. I think one of the reasons why is that so much is missing. We're told that Elizabeth and Wynn share a picnic together. We don't see the picnic. We see Wynn inviting Elizabeth to a special Mountie-dance in Calgary. We don't see the dance. We see Elizabeth sharing her feelings with Wynn to Wynn's sister-in-law. We're told that Wynn has told Elizabeth he doesn't ever plan to marry. But where are the scenes showing Elizabeth and Wynn together?! These are few and far between. And almost all of them occur before the misunderstanding is cleared up. Why would anyone think this romance is swoon-worthy???
There is potential romance between the niece-Elizabeth and Edward (if you forget that he's spent much of the first half of the movie attached to Julie). Edward has been instructed by Elizabeth's father to accompany his daughter to her job as an escort. They go by train...and then stagecoach... I'll be honest, Edward and Elizabeth's potential relationship was the only promising element of this movie, yet it remains undeveloped, of course, because this movie has no true resolution because the whole point is to introduce a new series.
The worst thing about this adaptation, however, was how the story was ROBBED of its spiritual integrity. The adaptation is just theologically BAD.
From the book:
But Andy did not return. He died during surgery in the Calgary hospital. We were told that even the nurses who attended him wept when the small boy lost his battle for life. It was a Wednesday afternoon when we all gathered at the school-house for Andy’s short funeral service. Mr. Dickerson read the scripture, and a visiting priest gave the last rites. We then left for the little cemetery on the hill. Many of my pupils were crying as we filed from the school-room. Else Peterson and Mindy Blake clung to each of my hands. My eyes were overflowing, but I was able to keep the sobs from shaking me...The grieving scene in the movie was all kinds of wrong. It begins with a why discussion and a question from a trouble-maker, Carl, who insists that God couldn't be a caring God. Elizabeth's response is startling. It starts weak and gets progressively worse. She tells Carl, that it is all about assumptions. We can't assume God doesn't care about us. Assumptions are silly and wrong and make us weak and foolish. Assuming something means believing something without any proof. Here's where it goes horribly wrong:
It was a short distance to the cemetery so we walked to it, the little procession, with the small pine casket at its head, stirring up little pillowy swirls of dust. The day was bright, the autumn sun glistening in a tranquil sky. A few clouds skittered across the blueness. The leaves still clinging to the trees were in full dress, but many others lay scattered on the ground, rustling at each stirring of the breeze...
Else broke our silence. “Andy would have liked this day,,” she whispered, looking up at its brightness; and I knew that she was right. I could imagine the gentle little boy with his shining eyes cheering this day on. “You did good,” he would exclaim to the beautiful morning. “You did good.” I cried then, the great sobs shaking my whole body. I remembered the last time that I had wept, and how the little boy in my embrace had reached up awkwardly, and yet tenderly, to brush away my tears. “You did good, Teacher,” he had whispered. And now that small boy had passed beyond—so young to journey on alone. But then I remembered that he hadn’t traveled alone—not one step of the way, for as soon as the loving hands had released him here, another Hand had reached out to gently take him. I tried to visualize him entering that new Land, the excitement and eagerness shining forth on his face, the cheers raising from the shrill little voice. There would be no pain twisting his face now, no need to hold his head and rock back and forth. Joy and happiness would surround him. I could almost hear his words as he looked at the glories of heaven and gave the Father his jubilant ovation—“You did good, God; You did real good!”
(Aunt/Diary) Elizabeth: You see, we all assume much of the time. And maybe we do that with God as well.There are so many things wrong with this conversation. We can know that God cares. He has revealed Himself to us. He has made known to us His character. He has made known to us His works. He has shown He CARES for us above and beyond. He showed this ultimately, of course, in JESUS. From Genesis to Revelation, God is revealed as a God who SEES, who LISTENS, who UNDERSTANDS, who RESPONDS. He is a God who seeks us and encourages us to SEEK HIM in return. God is God. No question about his authority or sovereignty. But also no question about His goodness, His lovingkindness, His mercy, His grace. God has not treated us as we deserved. God has treated us BETTER than we deserved. He has provided the way, the truth, the life. He has provided a way to be reconciled, a way to be forgiven. Here's the thing: The Bible reveals deep, beautiful promises; it speaks truth and only truth. So much can be known, can be experienced, by those who SEEK to know the book and its author. Elizabeth could have spoken of God's promises, of God's goodness, of God's grace. She could have opened up the Bible to John 11:1-44 or John 14:1-7. It is not like there are just a small number of verses that would have been encouraging and uplifting and comforting. The Bible is incredibly, beautifully, amazingly rich. Even Elizabeth's knowing "Jesus Loves Me" would have helped. Or "Amazing Grace" for that matter. Music can bring together sorrow and hope naturally.
Carl: So if we can't assume that God doesn't care. Then we can't assume he does, right?
Elizabeth: Yes, Carl, that's right. But all of us including me need to dig for what is true. For example, I care about you all and I love you very much.
"To Dig for What Is True." That is almost an insult to push aside God's Revelation which apparently "can't be assumed..." in order to take comfort in the fact that dear-old-Elizabeth, their brand-new teacher LOVES them oh-so-much. Isn't that a cozy thought. You can not assume that God loves you or cares for you, but you can know that I love you. Let's hope she didn't share her perspective with the dying Andy.
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible