A Little Like Little Women
As a rule I don't care much for period dramas but one of my favourite movies is "Little Women" the 1994 adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's story. It is because of this that I decided to watch "An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving" as this is also an adaptation of a Louisa May Alcott story. Now those who have read some of my other movie reviews will not be surprised when I say I have never read this Louisa May Alcott story but I have been told that it is only loosely based on her story. Despite this and whilst a made for TV movie "An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving" has some of the same warmth and style of the 1994 version of "Little Women", so if you enjoyed that there is a chance you will enjoy this to.
Following the death of father times have become hard for the Bassett family and it looks like their thanksgiving will be a modest one especially as matriarch Mary (Helene Joy) is busy caring for the sick, many of whom are suffering from Scarlet Fever. But Mary's daughter Mathilda (Tatiana Maslany) takes it upon herself to get in touch with their estranged grandmother Isabella (Jacqueline Bisset - Carolina Moon), sending her a letter informing her off their problems. So when Isabella shows up it is a surprise for all and rather awkward as the relationship between Isabella and Mary is strained ever since as a young woman she ran away and married the stable boy. But as Isabella spends time with her family she grows close to Mathilda who has aspirations of becoming a writer and their friendship leads to further complications for the Bassett family.
So as already mentioned I've never read Louisa May Alcott's story on which "An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving" is based but understand that it has been considerably altered in adaptation, something which I am sure is an issue for those who have read the story. But for those like me who found "Little Women" pleasantly charming this story has the same appeal and could almost be an additional episode from the 1994 movie. What we have is the Bassett family who following the death of Mr. Bassett are on hard times whilst Mrs. Bassett works herself ragged caring for sick families which are dealing with Scarlet Fever. The set up is familiar as is the fact that Mathilda the eldest daughter enjoys writing stories and has a friendship with Gad Hopkins who comes from a more affluent family. As I said it has that "Little Women" feel about it.
But where this differs is that "An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving" is about the arrival of their grandmother Isabella from the city who after a falling out with her daughter many years earlier has a strained relationship. What happens is kind of obvious as Mathilda and Isabella bond whilst her presence causes issues for Mary but by the time things are over old wounds have been healed and misunderstandings cleared up. Before the obvious ending arrives there is plenty of drama, some of the family kind as Mathilda's fondness for her grandmother causes problems as does Isabella's almost frostiness towards everyone. There are very few surprises and those which occur are sadly often telegraphed especially when the danger of Scarlet Fever is made so clear, but in its obviousness and simplicity "An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving" is charming.
Much of the reason for being charming is despite being a made for TV movie and so constrained by a TV movie budget it does well to create atmosphere and style. The picturesque snow covered landscapes are simply beautiful and whilst maybe everything does look a little too clean and perfect it doesn't detract too much, providing beautiful backdrops for many a scene. And it also doesn't detract that there are only a handful of locations as director Graeme Campbell paces the movie so beautifully that you don't notice that you are returning to the same place time and again.
Now whilst in her 60s Jacqueline Bisset is technically of the age to play Isabella the Grandmother her name doesn't really come to mind because, well lets be honest she is still stunning and that doesn't really fit in with what you expect a grandmother of this era to look like. But strangely it works especially when it comes to her initial attitude because rather than being curmudgeonly it is more frosty towards everyone and it makes her interesting. It means that her transition, and transition is very much what "An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving" is about, works as we watch her grow fond of her grand children and her true feelings towards Mary reveal themselves.
Bisset's performance is not the only good performance in "An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving" and whilst as Mathilda it feels like Tatiana Maslany is trying a little to hard to mirror what Winona Ryder did in the similar character in "Little Women" it works because it is a strong performance as is Helene Joy's performance as her mother Mary. To be honest for a TV movie the performances are good.
What this all boils down to is that "An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving" was a pleasant surprise, not only was it entertaining in the same style of "Little Women" but is much better than you would expect from a TV movie. Even if it doesn't hold true to Louisa May Alcott's original story it works as a very pleasant period drama especially for those who enjoyed the 1994 version of "Little Women".