I had a different post scheduled for today, but I immediately shifted it when I was browsing Youtube recently and discovered that all three of Hallmark’s Sarah, Plain and Tall adaptations had just been uploaded in full the other day. I had to take the opportunity to recommend them to my readers while this person’s channel is still live!
These movies are a little hard to track down and find, and they won’t always play on your computer even if you try to buy new copies (I speak from experience). Like many good made-for-TV movies, they’re buried gems waiting for the lucky viewer who chances upon them. Rarely do I feel that a movie adaptation of a book surpasses its source material, but this is an exception. For those who are unfamiliar with the stories, they follow a young family in Kansas at the turn of the century, whose lives are forever changed by the arrival of mail-order bride Sarah Wheaton (Glenn Close). The father, a widower named Jacob (Christopher Walken), literally places an ad in the paper for a potential new wife. Of course, she eventually stays for good.
I can’t recommend all three of them highly enough. They represent film-making at its finest. This is not Love Comes Softly. No offense to Janette Oke, but… yeah, just no.
The first film, Sarah Plain and Tall, tells the story through the eyes of the children, Anna and Caleb. Caleb immediately warms to Sarah, but Anna, a quiet, thoughtful child, is still aching from the loss of her birth mother. And for that matter, Jacob has not fully dealt with the loss himself. But all of them gradually awaken to the bonds of love that are forming. The second installment, Skylark, is more of a romance between Jacob and Sarah. They are happily married, but a devastating drought threatens to tear them apart, as Jacob is urging her to return to her home state of Maine indefinitely while he waits for rain. This is one of the brilliant things about all three movies: The land is arguably the main character. Drought, fire, storms and blizzards form plot-shaking centerpieces. The family’s character is formed as they weather each new disaster. Each loss reveals something honest and raw and true about them.
The final installment, Winter’s End, takes place a number of years later when the child actors have grown into teenagers. It introduces the wonderful new character of Jacob’s father, played by Jack Palance in a gripping guest performance. When you pair him up with Christopher Walken, you might want to take a couple steps back, because it is intense. Which brings me to another point, namely, the acting. The acting in all three of these films is so good, I need to refrain from gushing over it. As another actor described Glenn Close’s work in this series, “Light pours from that woman.” She’s simply brilliant in every scene. And Christopher Walken puts aside his bizarre eccentricities for a compelling, powerful dramatic role. Finally, watching little Anna and Caleb grow up before our eyes is a real treat, and unlike some child actors, Christopher Bell and Lexi Randall don’t lose their appeal with age. They’re joined by an adorable Emily Osment as Jacob and Sarah’s child Cassie.
Finally, there’s the script. Credit must be given to Patricia MacLachlan’s original, but the adapters filled out the books in so many wonderfully rich ways. Take this speech from Sarah after surviving a crisis in Winter’s End where she nearly freezes in the snow:
You know, my father used to say that when you die, you go to a place that feels like home. So, I always imagined that when that happened, I would see the rugged coast of Maine, smell the salty sea air, hear my three aunts, the unclaimed treasures, calling me in to supper. But the remarkable thing is, last night, it wasn’t the sea I went to, but this land. This Kansas. I saw the blue sky, the wind sweeping across the summer grasses, the cattle grazing on the hill. And Jacob. And I knew this was my home. This was my heart.
I really could go on and on, but you should just check out all three films for yourself. I would point to Skylark as my favorite overall, but they form an excellent trilogy to sit down and watch all at once. You’ll thank me later. Here are the Youtube links, along with a few of my favorite scenes.