Flowers in the Attic

The Book, The Movie and The Remake

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


The Book            The Movie            The Remake


The Book 

Author:  V. C. Andrews

Published By: Pocket Books

                I came to the party a little late when it comes to V. C. Andrews' controversial novels.  I wasn't introduced to her writing until the mid-1990s, when I joined a group of co-workers in a novel swap.  I really enjoyed this group as they had very different tastes in books and the novel swap allowed me the opportunity to check out books I might never have read otherwise.  Such is the case with Flowers in the Attic.

                The book is told in first person point of view by Cathy Dollanganger, the second child of four living an idyllically happy life in the suburbs with doting parents.  That idyllic life is shattered when their father is killed in a traffic accident and Cathy's mother Corrine reveals that without him, the family faces financial ruin.  Corrine decides to take them home to her mother and father, grandparents that Cathy, older brother Christopher and twins Cory and Carrie never even knew existed.

                As Corrine explains to the children, her parents, the Foxworths, were rich, but she had fallen out of favor with them.  Now that she and the children have fallen on hard times, Corrine must find a way back into her now dying father's good graces, ensuring her a place in his will so that she can provide for her children.  Cathy is skeptical, but her good natured brother shows her the bright side of things and the children actually look forward to a new adventure, despite missing their father.

                Unfortunately, their new adventure turns out to be a nightmare as they learn that they are to be kept locked in a room in the west wing of the mansion known as Foxworth Hall, never to see the light of day or go out in the fresh air until their grandfather dies.  Their stern grandmother sees them as Devil's issue and the children soon learn why - their mother and father were related, Corrine being their father's half-niece.  Despised and often punished for imagined sins by their grandmother, the children's only refuge is huge and ominous attic.

                Promising that the children will only have to live this way for a short period of time, Corrine initially does what she can to improve the conditions of the attic, making it a haven for the children in their time of imprisonment.  But as months pass and Corrine spends less and less time with the children, Cathy's naturally suspicious mind begins to take flight.  Could it be that their mother is more concerned with the fortune she will inherit once her father dies and less concerned with the condition her children are kept in?  Could it be that easy for Corrine to give her children up? 

                Forced to live in such tight quarters without interaction with the outside world, Christopher and Cathy find themselves looking to each other for comfort.  Will they be doomed to repeat the mistakes of their parents?  And when the twins become mysteriously ill, will Chris and Cathy's newly formed escape plan get them out of Foxworth Hall in time to save them?

                When I first read this book, I was both surprised with the na´vetÚ of the Dollanganger siblings, but also shocked with the book's outcome.  But the surprise and the shock did nothing to deter me from reading the book cover to cover and wanting more....more of the plot twists...more of the big reveals...more of the eroticism.  The book didn't exactly end on a cliffhanger, but there was a hint that there would be more to this story and I searched for the books that came next, reading every single one in the Dollanganger series, including the prequel Garden of Shadows which contains the V.C. Andrews name, but may have been written by ghostwriter Andrew Neiderman as it was published a year after Andrews' death.

                The writing prowess of V.C. Andrews is amazing and I am surprised to learn that writing wasn't something she got into until later in life.  Andrews had a gift for the written word that kept readers mesmerized, unable to put her books down until they reached the end for fear they might miss the full impact of her writing by pausing for other mundane things like work, eating or sleeping.  Though shocking in nature (many of her books contain incest or some notion thereof), they are apparently not shocking enough to keep readers away.  Flowers in the Attic reached the top of the bestseller lists only two weeks after it was published in 1979 and the book has sold over forty million copies worldwide.  Flowers in the Attic was eventually adapted into movie format in 1987 and again in 2014.

                Flowers in the Attic is one of those reads that will surprise you once you realize what the story is really about.  You might think you'll want to turn away, but you'll find that you simply can't.  Andrews has weaved a spider's web too thick to escape.  The characters are too well expressed, their situation too horrible, for you to abandon them.  You must know what will happen next.  You must know more about the Foxworths and why the Dollanganger children would be treated with such disdain.  You must know whether or not the story will have a happy ending or not.  And once you're finished with Flowers in the Attic, you're going to want more, trust me.

                More importantly, you will realize that V.C. Andrews' novels are not about incest, but seduction - not necessarily of the body, but of the mind.  They're about the seductive powers of wealth, power, fame, revenge AND the body.  They are about passion, but not just passion for another person - passion for art, passion for vengeance, passion for normalcy.  V.C. Andrews' Flowers in the Attic and the rest of the books in the Dollanganger series are cleverly written, addictive books that can be just what the doctor ordered for fans of the dramatic.


The Movie

Flowers in the Attic (1987)

Distributed By: New World Pictures

                Once I had read and enjoyed the novel series, I learned that a movie adaptation of Flowers in the Attic had been released in 1987.  I decided to rent it and find out if the movie was faithful to the novel.

                Flowers in the Attic (1987) starred Kristy Swanson as Cathy Dollanganger, Jeb Stuart Adams as Christopher Dollanganger, Ben Ryan Ganger as Cory Dollanganger and Lindsay Parker as Carrie Dollanganger.  Their mother, Corrine, was portrayed by Victoria Tennant and their grandmother, Olivia, was portrayed by Louise Fletcher.  Best known to me as Nurse Rached from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Louise Fletcher seemed to me to be the best choice for the role of the stern, harsh, unforgiving Olivia at the time.  Victoria Tennant was an excellent choice as flighty Corrine, a woman who appears to be loving at first, but is revealed to be a greedy shell of a woman.  As for the lead, Kristy Swanson just didn't do it for me.  She was just what a reader would imagine Cathy to look like, but her acting at the time was stilted and her portrayal of Cathy was more whiny and antagonizing, making her a rather unlikable character.  Not good when she's the one you're supposed to be rooting for.  The roles of the other children were well-performed, but nothing was standout in their portrayals.

                What I must comment on is how far the movie strayed from the book.  First, the length of time stayed in the attic was greatly shortened in this film.  In the novel, the children were locked away for three years, but in the movie, they were only locked away for a year.  I question the logic in this.  Sure, a year is a long time, but the amount of hate and anguish built up in the Dollanganger children over a year's time in this film is not logical.  By making it three years, as in the book, the viewer would be more apt to understand the anger and despair in the Dollanganger children.

                Then there is the scene in which Cathy's hair is cut off by the grandmother.  This was not only poorly done, but the wig that Swanson must wear for the rest of the film is absolutely horrible and too obviously a wig.  There was a reason that this scene was written the way it was in the book.  The scene in the book was a much more meaningful punishment doled out by the grandmother.  In the movie, it was just abuse, but in the book, this was more than physical abuse, it was mental abuse and anguish brought on by Cathy being forced to cut off her own hair or watch her siblings die of starvation.  A shame that the creators of the film took shortcuts with this scene.

                The ending is completely redone and is actually, in my point of view, a mockery of the end of the novel.  It's as if the creators of the film wanted to create a sense of closure just in case the movie didn't do well and they couldn't create a sequel.  The idea that the children would crash the wedding of Corrine and Bartholomew Winslow (Leonard Mann) is ridiculous.  The whole point of anguish in the novel is that Corrine goes on with her life as if she never had children once she comes to Foxworth Hall.  Her marriage is told to the children long after even the honeymoon takes place and still they are not allowed out of imprisonment.  This is a poignant detail of the novel that defines the callousness and greed of Corrine and it is a shame that the film writers decided to do things differently. 

                I also disliked the confrontation between Cathy and Corrine at the end of the film.  It's in complete contrast to the end of the novel and, while giving the film a more solid ending (although wouldn't Cathy be on the run, especially after what takes place in front of all those witnesses?), it takes something away from the story. 

                In closing, the 1987 version of Flowers in the Attic, while containing solid performances from Victoria Tennant and Louise Fletcher, was a huge disappointment and really not worth watching.



The Remake 

Flowers in the Attic (2014)

Distributor: Lifetime Movie Network

                When I learned that Lifetime Movie Network was going to premiere a new adaptation of Flowers in the Attic, I scoffed at the idea.  The book had already been adapted into a film in 1987 and the results were horrible.  But then I started seeing previews of the film that peaked my interest, making me think that maybe, this time, the writers of a made-for-television adaptation finally got things right.  I decided to check it out.

                This version of Flowers in the Attic, like the first, featured some well known actors in the title roles.  Cathy is portrayed by Kiernan Shipka, known for her role in Mad Men.  Corrine is portrayed by Heather Graham, known for her roles in The Hangover films, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Scream 2  and more.  The role of Olivia is portrayed by Ellen Burstyn, best known for her roles in The Exorcist, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Resurrection, Requiem for a Dream and more.  Other actors included Mason Dyce as Christopher, Jr., Chad Willet as Christopher, Sr., Ava Telek as Carrie, Maxwell Kovach as Cory and Dylan Bruce as Bart Winslow.

                In this version of Flowers in the Attic, we get to see more of the life of the Dollanganger family before they go to Foxworth Hall, giving us insight into the relationship between Cathy and her father and why his death hits her so hard.  This look into the Dollanganger's life pre-Foxworth Hall is not exactly like the book, but it is well done and that father/daughter relationship that is in the book is well-defined in the film.  After Christopher, Sr.'s death, there is no immediate move to Foxworth Hall as in the original film.  We see the transition of Corrine from happy mother and doting wife (though we do get a glimpse of the spoiled little rich girl willing to take shortcuts to get what she wants) to a devastated and desperate woman. 

                Once the family heads out to Foxworth Hall, we see brilliance in the making.  I had always thought Louise Fletcher made the perfect Olivia, but I see now that I was wrong.  Not that Fletcher's portrayal of Olivia fell short - she was awesome as Olivia and could only do what was given her in the script.  But this new version of the film contained a better script and offered up an even better opportunity for Ellen Burstyn as Olivia.  Here we still see the harsh, stern grandmother, but we get a hint that she wasn't always this way and we sometimes wonder if she is as evil as we are lead to believe.  This is a perfect representation of the Olivia in the V.C. Andrews novel.

                Having applauded Burstyn's job as Olivia, I can't seem to applaud many more of the performances in this film.  While Shipka's portrayal of Cathy is more likeable, in this movie, there is no real chemistry there with Dyce as Chris.  Considering what takes place between the two, you would expect more.  The twins in this film are not portrayed as well as in the first.  In fact, in this version, you find yourself wanting to slap them, whereas in the first film, they are too cute to ever get annoyed with.  What to say about Heather Graham as Corrine?  There are times when she is absolutely perfect in her role, portraying the loving mother who eventually transforms into the woman she was before meeting and starting a life with Christopher, Sr.  Then, there are times that seem disingenuous and we wonder why Graham was ever chosen for the role.  Victoria Tennant was the best as Corrine, staying true to character throughout the original film, making do with a script that strayed too far from the novel.

                And that is the real point of this article, because this Lifetime Movie Channel release of Flowers in the Attic is the only one that tries to do justice by the original novel.  Watching this film, you really get the feeling that the writers read the novel and, loving it, wanted to be as faithful to its content as possible, offering fans the most faithful adaptation of V.C. Andrews' novel as possible.  It isn't perfect, but it is very faithful to the original content and that is enough to recommend it to fans of the book.


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