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:
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.
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.
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!