When Calls the Heart
by Phil Boatwright

FILM SYNOPSIS: Directed by Michael Landon Jr. and based on the best-selling books by Janette Oke, When Calls the Heart tells the story of a young high-society teacher in the 1800s who receives her first classroom post in a prairie town in the Western frontier. Determined to prove to her family that she is brave enough to live on her own, Elizabeth (Poppy Drayton) struggles with her own fears and doubts until she discovers her late aunt’s diary. Her aunt (Maggie Grace), also named Elizabeth, had set off on a similar adventure as a teacher into the frontier, where she struggled with prairie life and eventually met and fell in love with a Royal Canadian Mountie (Stephen Amell). Reading her aunt’s words, the young Elizabeth decides to put her future in God’s hands and embark on her own adventure, where she uses the diary as her guide as well as Edward, another Mountie (Daniel Sharman), sworn to see her arrive.

The film debuted on the Hallmark Channel and is now being distributed by Word Entertainment on DVD.

PREVIEW REVIEW: Ms. Oke sure has written a great many of these “young women struggling on the prairie” oaters. And evidently Michael Landon Jr. is going to bring each of them to Hallmark, then DVD. Usually, they have love in the title (Love Begins, Love Finds a Home, Love’s Everlasting Courage, etc.) and they all have a similar theme and mood. The equivalent would be like listening to Mantovani records. Staid and comforting, but not very adventurous.

Sometimes this gentility is refreshing and these stories by Janette Oke have touched a chord with viewers (I think women viewers), but they don’t all work. I waited two days before writing up my take on the film and had forgotten every single detail. I had to go back to my notes (thank goodness I take notes). Mr. Landon is too professional to make a bad movie, but his cast seems uninspired. They limp along like an old horse set out to pasture. Boring seems too harsh a word for the work of a filmmaker I appreciate, but despite the respect for God once again shown and the messages about strength of character, the performances are perfunctory at best. That said, it’s clean, with positive messages about family and endurance, and it contains a respect for religious convictions, with prayers being spoken. But I found it cornball, clunky, and forgettable.

Not rated, the content family-friendly.

Allow me to offer up an alternative: Sarah, Plain and Tall was also a Hallmark Hall of Fame story. It stars Glenn Close as a woman in the 1880s who answers an ad to share a life on a Kansas farm. Nominated for nine Emmys, it entertains and uplifts the spirit. It is an intelligent made-for-TV movie