Flowers in the Attic: Does it bloom or die?

Flowers in the Attic is a novel by V.C. Andrews, from 1979. It tells the story of Cathy, a young woman who along with her three siblings, get locked away in an Attic. The novel has been adapted twice now: once in 1987 and recently, in 2014, as a lifetime movie.

From this point on, I use the term ‘film’ instead of ‘movie.’ 

When I heard that Lifetime was doing Flowers in the Attic, something went off in my brain. It seemed familiar, but I couldn’t exactly recall. Then, I remembered, it was a novel that had been read by many of my friends. My friends, which, were in the Honors English Courses. So, having not read the novel, I sat down to see Lifetime’s adaptation knowing only the bare minimum: children are locked away and have an abusive grandmother.

Of course, as I watched the film, I learned there was a whole lot more to this story. And, by chance you don’t know— the children are left in the attic by their mother, who is trying to win back the love of her father, to inherit the family fortune. Through  complicated plot, you learn the children must be kept secret, and thus, are essentially left in the attic to die. Cathy and her older brother begin to experience puberty in the attic, and as there is no one else, they engage in intercourse.

Lifetime Films are a mixed bag: Sometimes they are good, sometimes awful and sometimes they are in the middle. Having not read the novel or seen the 1987 adaptation before I watched this version, my viewing experience was without former interpretations of the material.  As its own entity, I personally would say this film was good, overall.

The film’s strongest asset is Kiernan Shipka, the 14 year old portraying Cathy.The young woman gives an award winning performance, never once overacting or crying so annoyingy, like so many actresses in a lifetime production. Based on her alone, I’d recommend this film. She keeps you engaged and she makes you care about Cathy, which of course, is very important.

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Cathy as she has a heart-to-heart with her father.

The mother is played by Heather Graham. Her performance is difficult to describe. On one hand, there are shades of the typical “can’t act” actress you find in these movies. But, on the other, she somehow shines when it counts. Graham tends to act like a spoiled college girl, very bubbly and excited. This manner is a conundrum, because the mother IS spoiled, yet the acting can sometimes come off as rehearsed. But, all in all, she gets the job done.

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‘The Mother’, a woman who in fact doesn’t act like one at all.

Cathy’s older brother, Christopher, is played by Mason Dye. At first glance, one assumes he’s there only to get the girls screaming and licking their television screens. Like Heather Graham, Dye’s performance waxes and wains, from cringe-worthy one liners to fairly good interactions. Dye’s so-so acting often appears when he works with Heather Gram. But, it is in his scenes with Kiernan Shipka, where the young man gets a passing grade and is believable. One might assume that Shipka was easy to work off of. Dyes’ especially good with facial expressions— saying so much without speaking a word.

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Christopher, torn between trusting his mother or his sister.

Lastly, there’s Ellen Burstyn, as the vicious Grandmother. There’s not much to say about her. She nails her part perfectly and aside from a few so-so written words, acts her way through it with energy and power.

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Nothing’s worse than a wicked grandmother.

After my viewing of the film, I researched the novel and the other adaptation, to see how they all compare. (From a story standpoint.) The most drastic change from novel to the Lifetime Film is the fact that in the novel, Cathy is raped by her brother. In the film, their love making is  consensual. I think this change is acceptable and allows the audience to love Christopher through and through.

If you’re wondering if the Lifetime Film is better than the 1987 version, I have your answer. The Lifetime film is better. The 1987 version does have some nice moments, but generally suffers from a dated, 80s flare that it can’t escape. Most importantly, in the 1987 version, the story is rushed, almost as though the film was sped up. The 1987 film works more like an essay with certain points to hit, while the Lifetime version is allowed to ebb and flow. You’ll also be interested in knowing that in the 1987 version, Cathy and Christopher developing feelings for another is absent entirely. This omission changes the entire tone of the story and makes it almost laughable.

Without spoiling both films, it should be noted they have different finales. Both finales serve to bring revenge to the villains in the story, but in vastly different ways. I would encourage to view the 1987 version just to see this difference. Both films also have a few other special gems, regarding how the story is told. But these are both better to be experienced without knowing.

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The original Flowers in the Attic, 1987.

But, when it’s all said and done, I say Lifetime did a fair job of bringing the novel to life. The ratings were extremely good, and plans to follow with a sequel are in motion.

You can watch the Lifetime Film here:  LIFETIME VERSION 

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