Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
USA, 1983. Thorn EMI Screen Entertainment, Universal Pictures. Screenplay by Dalene Young, based on the book by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Cinematography by John A. Alonzo. Produced by Robert B. Radnitz, Martin Ritt. Music by Leonard Rosenman. Production Design by Walter Scott Herndon. Costume Design by Joe I. Tompkins. Film Editing by Sidney Levin. Academy Awards 1983. Cannes Film Festival 1983. National Board of Review Awards 1983.
Gorgeous drama based on Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ memoirs about her years as a burgeoning writer. Dissatisfied with married life in the north, Rawlings purchases an orange grove in 1920s Florida, site unseen, and moves there with the purposes of pursuing her writing full force while earning a living off the land. She arrives with her big-city fashions and captures the locals’ attention, particularly a handsome store owner (Peter Coyote) who is immediately smitten, and the backwoods family led by Rip Torn who are her closest neighbours. Rejection after rejection comes by way of her publisher (Malcolm McDowell), who keeps insisting that her tales of governesses on worldwide adventures are bloodlessly perfect imitations of great writing that don’t all compare to the glorious letters she sends back of stories about Cross Creek. Her observations of her excitable maid (Alfre Woodard in a wonderful performance), or Torn’s little girl Ellen (Dana Hill), whom she is watching grow into womanhood would eventually weave their way into the creation of her two most famous books, Jacob’s Ladder and The Yearling, and watching them come about is a real treat. Mary Steenburgen shines as the lead character, all poise and acidic strong will, while the photography drips with nature and colour in every shot. The film lacks some dramatic tension (her adjustment to the new land is without particularly high stakes), but the scenes that excel (such as meeting Torn’s off-kilter wife, played by Joanna Miles) make up for it.