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When Calls the Heart: Lost and Found
As if author Janette Oke or the Hallmark network that brought her novels to life on the small screen didn’t have enough of a fan base, their most recent adaptive collaboration When Calls the Heart about a refined young woman who leaves her privileged wife to teach out west, is sure to attract devotees of 1994’s thematically and topically similar series Christy starring Kellie Martin.
And much like Christy, which also began its run as a made-for-TV-movie to best acquaint viewers with the heroine and main plotline based on Christian author Catherine Marshall’s novel, Hallmark’s Heart is similarly spinning off into a series in its own right, which is slated to air shortly after the new year.
Directed by longtime Oke director Michael Landon Jr., When Calls the Heart easily entices viewers familiar with her popular Love Comes Softly series, by keeping its plot-points consistent and delivering on the same paradigm made popular in the blockbuster adaptations of her work witnessed on the network so far.
Having graduated Summa Cum Laude and served as her college’s valedictorian, the fiercely independent-minded Elizabeth (Poppy Drayton) is eager to mold young minds and embark on a teaching career wherever she can do the most good. But when the post she’s assigned turns out to be located in a western coal-mining town still reeling from overwhelming tragedy months earlier thanks to a catastrophic accident, Elizabeth’s will is put to the test.
Determined to find solace in knowledge, she looks to the one place she’s always found answers before by combing through the books on her family’s shelves. Stunned to stumble on an ancestral diary belonging to her namesake – that of her father’s younger sister Elizabeth Thatcher (Maggie Grace) who’d also gone out west to teach decades earlier – our young heroine spends a week testing herself to live in rustic surroundings without creature comforts, save for the life lessons offered up by a woman who’d done the same and so much more.
Moving back and forth in time between the two narratives, while the more contemporary plotline is initially no match for the increasingly intriguing tales of the past, oddly enough, there’s a shift in pacing and originality once Aunt Elizabeth’s words inspire the younger woman to act as strangely, the film can’t manage to hold our attention equally between the two time periods.
While it’s reminiscent of past Oke works and corresponds to the same formula of gentle romance and character building hardships, using two narratives to break up some of the most predictable plot points aids in its success greatly along with the uniformly excellent work by a fine cast.
Though it’s sure to generate interest from fans of TV’s Arrow for its inclusion of Stephen Amell as the aunt’s love interest, the strongest performance in the movie comes from actress Maggie Grace. Often under-utilized in big screen action movies, Grace is ideally cast as the inspiring aunt whose pioneering sense of adventure for the sake of education and integrity helps keep the film’s girl power message going strong in a way that’ll make it appeal to today’s audiences.
While it’s nothing we haven’t seen before, When Calls the Heart makes a nice change of pace from crime scene dramas and ultimately – by depositing our heroine in new surroundings – ends in a way that makes it successful as a standalone work but also sets up a promise of exciting things to come in the 2014 series.
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