Take 3: At Home in Mitford Review (National Read a Book Day Double Feature Part 2)

Happy National Read a Book Day! I want to let you know there will be spoilers for both the book and movie in this review. If you want to check out this double feature’s introduction, you can visit this link:

The National Read a Book Day’s Double Feature Introduction

At Home in Mitford poster created by Crown Media Family Networks and Hallmark Channel
1. How did you come to know of this film?

I remember when Hallmark’s adaptation was announced four years ago. The biggest news associated with the project was the casting of Cameron Mathison and Andie MacDowell as Father Tim Kavanagh and Cynthia Coppersmith. This news made fans upset, due to the fact both Andie and Cameron were younger than their characters were described in the book. Their disapproval of the casting led the movie to be one of the lowest viewed films on Hallmark Channel that year, with 1.34 million viewers. I also remember the movie didn’t receive an encore presentation, as is customary for the majority of Hallmark productions. While I’m not sure if this information is accurate, I have heard Jan Karon, the author of the Mitford series, didn’t promote the film.

2. How did you acquire this movie’s respective source material?

Two years ago, I purchased a used copy of At Home in Mitford at a library book sale. I became interested in reading the series before the adaptation’s premiere, as I heard so many good things about it. Since I never got to read any of the books before the movie aired, I was curious to see how different the book was from the film. At the sale, they had the whole series available for purchase. But since I didn’t know if I would like the series, I just bought the first book.

3. Have you read Jan Karon‘s work before? What are thoughts on her writing?

Like I mentioned in the introduction, I have never read anything by Jan Karon before. So, I didn’t know what to expect from the book. Jan’s emphasis on detail was one of At Home in Mitford’s strengths! An example is when things are being listed off. In the book, Father Tim and Cynthia go to the movies. Within a paragraph, Jan takes the time to mention the snacks they purchased, saying “they went into the empty row with a box of popcorn, a Diet Sprite, a Coke, and a box of Milk Duds”. It’s details like these that make the characters and the story itself feel realistic.

Similar to Saint Maybe, At Home in Mitford is mostly a “slice of life” story. But there are a series of mysteries that are drawn out throughout the text. Because this book has elements of mystery, but is not a mystery novel, the overall sense of urgency was low. At times, it felt like there were too many characters and storylines. Mitford seemed like any other small town I’ve seen in Hallmark’s programming. While reading this book, I kept asking myself, “How is Mitford any different from Cedar Cove? Or Chesapeake Shores?” Maybe if I had read At Home in Mitford before watching any of those programs, I would think differently. But, at the end of the day, I thought this book was a fine, wholesome story.

4. Was the movie different from its source material? If so, how?

Even though there were some similarities between the movie and the book, At Home in Mitford’s film adaptation contained more differences. Some characters were either omitted or changed from the text. One of these characters was Olivia Davenport. In the film, she was a parishioner who was seeking Tim’s guidance for her rocky marriage. Her presence in the movie was very limited, which is different from the book. In the novel, Olivia was a part of At Home in Mitford’s ensemble cast of characters. Her storyline was one of the most important, as she desperately needed a heart transplant. Olivia also helped Mitford’s doctor, Hoppy Harper, move forward from the loss of his deceased wife. As I said in answer number three, I, at times, felt like there were too many characters and storylines in the book. Therefore, I don’t fault Hallmark for leaving out certain parts of the source material. However, if the adaptation’s creative team knew they were going to include one of the book’s characters in their script, then they should have given Olivia a greater significance in the film.

Despite the film adaptation’s differences from the book, some of them had purpose. The novel and film featured a character named Marge Owen. While she became pregnant in both versions of the story, she was given a greater importance in the movie. The book never revealed her occupation, where the film shows Marge owning her own bookstore. She also provides friendship and guidance to Cynthia in the adaptation. As a way to overcome her writer’s block, Cynthia volunteers to restore the church’s paintings. In Jan Karon’s book, Cynthia wasn’t involved with the church. She does attend church services, but she doesn’t go the extra mile for the parish. The movie version of Cynthia tells Tim that she wants to give back. Cynthia’s decision not only gives her a stronger connection to the church, but it also shows how someone living their faith can come in different forms.

This is the copy of At Home in Mitford I purchased two years ago. Screenshot taken by me, Sally Silverscreen.
5. Do you think the movie was better than the book or was the book better than the movie?

When it comes to At Home in Mitford, I can’t give a yes or no answer. So, I’ll say it like this: As a movie, At Home in Mitford is a fine, run-of-the-mill Hallmark Channel production, with some of the film’s changes improving upon the book. But as an adaptation, it feels like the network was trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. The first book in Jar Karon’s series was published before Hallmark Channel came into existence. By the time the adaptation was filmed, Hallmark was already well versed in their formula. Because the adaptation’s creative team tried so hard to fit At Home in Mitford into Hallmark’s brand of film-making, the story was watered down. If Hallmark were serious about faithfully adapting At Home in Mitford, they should have adapted it into a television show, as that is how the book read to me. I also think Jan Karon herself should have been one of the movie’s screen-writers.

6. Saint Maybe and At Home in Mitford share some similarities, such as how both books are written by women. Are there any other similarities you can think of?

Like I said in answer number three, At Home in Mitford is mostly a “slice of life” story. While there are mysteries within the text, the mysteries themselves feel lower in stakes. In the book, Father Tim finds some stolen jewels in an urn. Even though these jewels were connected to an international crime, Jan finds a way to connect this crime directly to Mitford. Father Tim wonders if his antique shop owner friend, Andrew Gregory, may have imported the jewels by hiding them in antique furniture. However, the culprit was a man named George Gaynor, a criminal on-the-run who found solace in Father Tim’s religious wisdom. Though George was arrested for his crime, he received the opportunity to become baptized. Father Tim even kept in touch with George after he left Mitford.

Saint Maybe is also a “slice of life” story featuring several mysteries. Similar to At Home in Mitford, the stakes of these mysteries were lower. Back in my review of Saint Maybe’s film adaptation, I mentioned how Ian discovered the identity of Agatha and Thomas’ father. Because this information was discovered long after Ian agreed to help raise Agatha and Thomas, there wasn’t a strong sense of urgency to do anything about the situation. He doesn’t even tell his family what he found. In fact, after speaking with Agatha and Thomas’ maternal grandmother, the movie version of Ian says to himself, “Thank goodness I didn’t find this information sooner”.

7. Should Hallmark adapt Jan Karon‘s other work? If so, why?

If At Home in Mitford’s film adaptation had received better reception from the viewers, then I’d be curious to see Hallmark adapt the other books in the Mitford series. Because that didn’t happen, Hallmark would have difficulty adapting Jan Karon’s other work, as most of her books are Mitford related. But since Hallmark created a few animated films in the past, I could honestly see them adapting Miss Fannie’s Hat or Jeremy: The Tale of An Honest Bunny. Similar to properties like Hoops and Yo-yo, Hallmark could create merchandise related to these stories as well. I’ve never read Miss Fannie’s Hat or Jeremy: The Tale of An Honest Bunny. But as long as Jan herself is involved with the project, I’d be fine with Hallmark adapting these books.

8. Is there anything about At Home in Mitford you liked or didn’t like?

I’ve heard complaints from Mitford fans about how different Dooley is in the film compared to the book.  While I do agree about Dooley being very different in the movie, I actually liked the movie version of his character. Dooley was sometimes the comic-relief in the story. His grandfather, Russell, even called him “a prankster”. My favorite scene was when Dooley removed the ‘Dog Found’ posters almost immediately after Father Tim posted them. Throughout the film, Father Tim actively sought out Barnabas’ former pet parent. He spreads the word about the dog’s current whereabouts by posting ‘Dog Found’ posters throughout Mitford. Since Dooley doesn’t want to see Barnabas go away, he removes these posters behind Father Tim’s back. This scene was hilarious because of its believability.

Compared to the book, At Home in Mitford’s film adaptation felt formulaic. Like I said in answer number five, the movie’s creative team tried so hard to fit At Home in Mitford into Hallmark’s brand of film-making. Instead, the story followed the same beats and tropes/cliches as other Hallmark titles. The film included an adaptation exclusive character named Jack Emery. Throughout the story, he embodied the “business person is a jerk and/or out of touch” cliché, with his sole purpose being the worse datable candidate compared to Father Tim. At Home in Mitford’s film adaptation was released in 2017, two years after All of My Heart. The 2015 movie was one of the network’s most notable films to challenge the aforementioned cliché. Therefore, it made At Home in Mitford kind of seem outdated by comparison.

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9. Did you develop any thoughts and/or questions while watching this film?

Similar to Saint Maybe, religion/faith was downplayed in At Home in Mitford’s film adaptation. Both Father Tim and Cynthia mentioned they were Episcopalian. In answer number four, I talked about how Cynthia volunteers to restore the church’s paintings. Even though several scenes took place inside the church, we don’t see any characters worshipping within its walls. The tail end of Father Tim’s sermon was shown as well. The book showed how religion/faith played a role in Father Tim’s everyday life. He quoted a Scripture passage to fit almost any situation, even using Scripture to discipline Barnabas. Father Tim also turned toward everyday life to find inspiration for his sermons. Because Hallmark gave us Signed, Sealed, Delivered and has incorporated faith into When Calls the Heart, I’m surprised the network chose to tone down the religion/faith in the At Home in Mitford movie. But, once again, it feels a missed opportunity.

10. Would At Home in Mitford encourage viewers to read either its source material or any other book?

Because of how many differences are found in the adaptation, I think it might encourage some viewers to check the book out. I can only speak for myself, but this is what inspired me to read the first book in the Mitford series. When I started reading At Home in Mitford, I could immediately tell how different each story was. I said in answer number five that the book read more like a television show. This is because the story was abundant with characters and storylines, as well as storylines being drawn-out. If viewers find themselves watching more tv series than movies, then the book might be for them.

11. After watching this movie, is there anything you can take away from your movie viewing experience?

Because the stories in At Home in Mitford revolve around the citizens of a small town, I can see why Hallmark would want to adapt Jan Karon’s series. At the time of the film adaptation’s release, small towns were an exhausted backdrop in Hallmark’s productions, with most of their characters being former or current small-town residents. But it seems like the network was so eager to potentially start a new series, that they lost sight of who this project was intended for. Excluding Jan Karon from the creative process doesn’t help Hallmark’s case. Their inability to adapt pre-existing material, At Home in Mitford in this case, shows how creatively dependent they’ve become on the rom-com genre. In my honest opinion, this movie was made a decade or two too late. Since Hallmark spent so much time showing how every small town was special, Mitford wasn’t given the opportunity to stand out. This movie should have been released either as a Hallmark Hall of Fame production prior to 2010 or on Hallmark Channel between 2001 to 2007.

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

Take 3: Anne Tyler’s Saint Maybe Review (National Read a Book Day Double Feature Part 1)

Happy National Read a Book Day! I want to let you know there will be spoilers for both the book and movie in this review. If you want to check out this double feature’s introduction, you can visit this link:

The National Read a Book Day’s Double Feature Introduction

Anne Tyler’s Saint Maybe poster created by Hallmark Hall of Fame Productions and CBS
1. How did you come to know of this film?

If you’ve been following my blog, you would know that my least favorite Hallmark Hall of Fame movie is Back When We Were Grownups. Like a lot of Hallmark Hall of Fame productions, the 2004 film was based on pre-existing source material; a novel written by Anne Tyler. Over the years, I discovered that two other Hallmark Hall of Fame movies have been based on Anne’s work: Breathing Lessons and Saint Maybe. Before this double feature, I had never seen either film. All I knew about Hallmark’s 1998 adaptation was that a man took in a deceased relative’s children and that the story had something to do with forgiveness. I also remember how the film would sometimes air during Hallmark Movies & Mysteries’ ‘Miracles of Christmas’ marathon.

2. How did you acquire this movie’s respective source material?

I purchased a second-hand copy of Saint Maybe at an estate sale earlier this year. As soon as I saw the book on a shelf, it reminded me of my Hallmark Hall of Fame Reading Challenge. Back in 2019, I created a reading challenge based on the books or plays that were adapted into Hallmark Hall of Fame titles. Since I’d like to read as many of these works as I realistically can, I purchased the book with that intention.

3. Have you read Anne Tyler‘s work before? What are thoughts on her writing?

As I said in the introduction, this was my first time reading anything by Anne Tyler. Based on what I read and based on what I saw in Back When We Were Grownups, I’m going to guess her forte is writing about larger families that are somewhat dysfunctional. Out of those two stories, I liked Saint Maybe more than Back When We Were Grownups. There was heart incorporated in the narrative and the Bedloe family had a legitimate reason for their dysfunctionality. I was also surprised by the inclusion of religion/faith. But I didn’t like how the chapters were too long. What Anne should have done instead is write shorter chapters and include them in separate sections for each character. I, personally, am not a fan of “slice of life” stories. About eighty percent of Saint Maybe is just that: a “slice of life” story. With all that said, I thought the novel was well-meaning and fine.

4. Was the movie different from its source material? If so, how?

For the most part, Saint Maybe was faithful to the source material, especially when it came to the most important parts of the story. But there were changes found in the adaptation. One of these changes was Agatha’s personality. In the book, when Agatha was introduced in the story as a young child, she came across as distant and matter-of-fact. As she grows up, Agatha comes to despise religion, as she feels religion was forced upon her life. The movie version of Agatha adopts the personality Thomas had in the book, coming across as sweet and mild-mannered. She grows up to be a friendly doctor who has no known opinion on religion. While she does criticize The Church of the Second Chance, she does this because she wants Ian to live his best life. Her criticism has nothing to do with religion itself.

Another difference between the movie and its source material is how Ian figures out the identity of Agatha and Thomas’ father. Agatha, in the book, is very protective over a jewelry box she claims belonged to her mother. Ian stumbles across this box by accident and finds Agatha’s and Thomas’ birth certificates among the jewelry and other items. These certificates reveal their father’s last name; Dulsimore. Ian learns this information differently in the movie. Similar to the book, Thomas and Agatha own a doll named Dulcimer. While Agatha is at Ian’s parents’ house, the audience can see her trying to remove something from the back of the doll. However, this information isn’t revealed until later in the movie. When the Bedloe family hires Rita diCarlo to organize their house, a lot of items end up getting thrown out. One of these items was Dulcimer the doll. As Ian is leaving the house, he sees the doll in a garbage bag. When he picks it up, he finds a slip of paper hidden in the doll’s back, revealing the doll’s name was also the last name of Agatha and Thomas’ father.

5. Do you think the movie was better than the book or was the book better than the movie?

Like its source material, I thought the movie adaptation of Saint Maybe was fine. Therefore, this is a difficult question to answer. But I will try to answer this question as best as I can by saying this: If you want to see a story about a family dealing with a personal tragedy, I’d recommend the movie. This is because the movie gets straight to the story’s point a lot sooner than the book did. If you’re interested in a story where the protagonist overcomes guilt and sin through religion/faith, I’d recommend the book. As I’ll explain later in this review, the movie didn’t feature religion/faith as much as in the book.

This is the copy of Saint Maybe I purchased earlier this year. Screenshot taken by me, Sally Silverscreen.
6. Saint Maybe and At Home in Mitford share some similarities, such as how both books were published in the 1990s. Are there any other similarities you can think of?

As I said in answer number three, I was surprised by the inclusion of religion/faith in Saint Maybe. Even though the movie and its source material are titled Saint Maybe, I wasn’t expecting religion/faith to play a large role in the text. But religion/faith is a cornerstone of both Saint Maybe and At Home in Mitford.  References to God, the Bible, and Christianity can be found in each book. However, the way both authors incorporated these ideas into their stories is very distinct.Throughout Saint Maybe, the congregation of The Church of the Second Chance obeyed a rule that forbade them from consuming sugar. While this rule seems ridiculous on the surface, it is used as a metaphor for sin. Reverend Emmett, the leader of The Church of the Second Chance, explains that if one actively avoids sugar, they are actively avoiding sin. If someone tries to make excuses for consuming sugar, they are making excuses for committing sin.

7. Should Hallmark adapt Anne Tyler‘s other work? If so, why?

As of early September 2021, Hallmark has not made any announcements on whether they are bringing back the Hallmark Hall of Fame collection. But if Hallmark does choose to create more Hallmark Hall of Fame titles and would like to adapt more of Anne Tyler’s novels, there are plenty of stories for them to choose from. According to Goodreads, twenty-four books written by Anne Tyler have not been adapted into a Hallmark production. Since I’ve never read any of those books, I can’t say which one is more deserving of receiving an adaptation. But if I had to pick at least one title Hallmark should adapt into a film, it would either be A Patchwork Planet or Digging to America. This is based on each book’s synopsis, as I have not read either book.

Personally, I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing Hallmark adapt more of Anne Tyler’s stories. Based on my experience with Saint Maybe, the movie was mostly faithful to the source material. So, with the right creative team involved, maybe another Anne Tyler story could be lucky enough to receive similar treatment. Because three of Anne Tyler’s books have been adapted into Hallmark Hall of Fame titles, it appears Hallmark has had a good working relationship with the author. I’m not sure how much creative control Anne had on either film. But if Hallmark wants to work with Anne again, I’m pretty sure an agreement between both parties could be reached.

8. Is there anything about Saint Maybe you liked or didn’t like?

Saint Maybe is a story that takes place over the course of several years. In the movie, there were subtle clues revealing which time period was portrayed on screen. One establishing shot showed a boy riding his banana seat bicycle down the sidewalk. This brief image indicated how that specific part of the story took place in the 1970s, as banana seat bicycles were popular within that decade. During the movie, Ian adopted a pair of large rimmed glasses. Because this style of glasses was common in the 1980s, Ian’s accessory is very telling of how much time had passed since the beginning of the film. Movies are a visual form of story-telling. So, I liked how the film’s creative team took the initiative to show the passage of time in a creative way.

 My favorite part of the book was when Daphne tried to set up Ian with her fifth-grade teacher, Miss Pennington. It was in this chapter that I started to like Daphne as a character, her free-spirited personality being introduced to me as the reader. Unfortunately, this part of the book wasn’t translated to the screen. I was disappointed by the omission of the book’s seventh chapter. The audience could have witnessed the evolution of Daphne’s personality, gaining an understanding of why she became who she was by the end of the story. Instead, there was a huge time jump from five-year-old girl to free-spirited woman. Because of missing context, this left questions without answers. But I recognize there is only so much story you can tell in eighty-four minutes.

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9. Did you develop any thoughts and/or questions while watching this film?

While I didn’t develop any questions, I was surprised by how religion/faith was downplayed in Saint Maybe’s film adaptation. Yes, Ian’s introduction to The Church of the Second Chance was similar to the book. Agatha and Thomas tell Ian what they learned at summer camp, which was run by The Church of the Second Chance. Toward the end of the film, the Bedloe family are seen going to church. Other than these moments, religion/faith didn’t have an influence over the character’s lives. The Sugar Rule I talked about in answer number six was never brought up in the script. Reverend Emmett’s beliefs on how his congregation was led didn’t appear in any of the character’s dialogue. Even Reverend Emmett himself showed up in two or three scenes, having a much smaller presence than he did in the book. Saint Maybe’s film adaptation was released in 1998, a time when shows like Touched by An Angel were finding success on mainstream television. In hindsight, Hallmark choosing not to ride Touched by An Angel’s coattails kind of seems like a missed opportunity.

10. Would Saint Maybe encourage viewers to read either its source material or any other book?

I think it depends on what type of story someone wants to consume. As I said in answer number five, I’d recommend the book if you’re interested in a story where religion/faith is one of the key themes. But if you like films from the drama genre, those that explore relationships between characters, then the film adaptation is for you. I’ve said before that I am not a fan of “slice of life” stories. Like I mentioned in answer number three, Saint Maybe is primarily a “slice of life” story. If I hadn’t read the book beforehand, I would probably choose the movie over the text.

11. After watching this movie, is there anything you can take away from your movie viewing experience?

I now understand why Saint Maybe was sometimes shown during Hallmark Movies & Mysteries’ ‘Miracles of Christmas’ marathon. Several scenes took place during Christmas-time, with decorations associated with the holiday shown in the background. But I wouldn’t necessarily call Saint Maybe a Christmas story/movie. I said in answer number eight that this story took place over the course of several years. The themes and messages within the text are not exclusive to the Christmas season. In 2019, I created a tier rank list of every Hallmark Hall of Fame movie I’ve ever seen. Since posting that list, I have renamed each category. For Saint Maybe, I’d place this film adaptation in the category titled ‘Bought It at a Garage Sale for a Dollar’. The movie itself was fine, but I wouldn’t pay $20 if it was sold on DVD.

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

The National Read a Book Day’s Double Feature Introduction

Back in March, I published my review of The Abominable Dr. Phibes. That post became my 500th. Every time I publish 100 posts, I host a special double feature. For months, I was trying to find the right theme for these reviews. Remembering how my first milestone double feature was published on Halloween, I decided to commemorate another holiday. However, I wanted to choose a holiday that is lesser known. After doing some research on the internet, I learned National Read a Book Day is celebrated on September 6th. This caused me to remember how I not only had the 2017 movie, At Home in Mitford, on my DVR, but I also owned a copy of the book it is based on. Then I remembered I had a copy of Saint Maybe, the same book that was adapted into a Hallmark Hall of Fame film. That was when the idea for this double feature was born! With every double feature, I try to answer a thought-provoking question related to both films. Since I read both aforementioned books before watching each movie, I am asking the following question:

Would these adaptations encourage the viewers to read their source material or any other book?

Prior to this double feature, I had never read anything by Jan Karon or Anne Tyler. I also have never seen the Hallmark Hall of Fame adaptation of Saint Maybe before. But this will be my second time watching At Home in Mitford, as I first saw the film when it released in 2017. Similar to my PB & J double feature, there are no pre-movie thoughts and/or questions this time.

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Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen