Friday, July 08, 2022

Flowers in the Attic: The Origin, on Lifetime

V.C. Andrews has released far more books after her death than while she was alive. A lot of writers have had their franchises live on through ghostwriters, but in her case, the ratio of posthumous to living is not even close. That is why Garden of Shadows, the prequel to Flowers in the Attic is kind of “special.” It released in 1987, relatively soon after her 1986 death, so fans hoped Andrews herself had some direct involvement with it. In any event, it was a return to her most popular series, explaining where her beloved and despised characters came from. Of course, the Foxworth/Dollanger clan came from their own biological family members, as any V.C. Andrews fan knows. Things are as gothic and incestuous as ever in the four feature-length episodes of Flowers in the Attic: The Origin, which premieres tomorrow on Lifetime.

Olivia Winfield will eventually become the mean grandmother Louise Fletcher played in the 1987
Flowers in the Attic movie everybody hates, especially fans. As the mini-series opens, Winfield is her father’s quirky, independent daughter and also his shrewd business partner. However, Malcolm Foxworth quickly sweeps her off her feet and whisks her away to his Southern Gothic mansion. Unfortunately, as soon as they are married, he reveals his true violent, domineering colors. He also seems to have weird issues regarding his beautiful late mother—naturally.

Foxworth the man is a heartless tyrant and Foxworth the Manor is an evil place. However, the untimely death of her father leaves Olivia stuck with both. As a result, she will do her best to protect her sons Mal Jr. and Joel, along with Corrine, the daughter Malcolm conceived when he attacked his late father’s much younger wife, Alicia, whom the Foxworths raise as their own. Of course, Corrine is the only one Malcolm Sr. cares about, a little too much.

And from there, things really start to get scandalous. In a way, you have to give Lifetime credit, because they have always leaned into what attracted fans to the books in the first place. (It is also frustrating to think Wes Craven might have directed the 1987 movie, but the faithfulness of his approach got him cut from the project.)
 Regardless, Origin is over-stuffed with inappropriate relationships, thereby staying reasonably faithful to Garden of Shadows.

Origin is not exactly horror, but it still counts as gothic. Foxworth Manor is nearly atmospheric as Collinwood and it is definitely less healthy. The miniseries is just as shamelessly melodramatic and emotionally overwrought as fans will expect, but it is somewhat less cheesy than some of Lifetime’s previous non-Dollanger V.C. Andrews adaptations, like My Sweet Audrina and Ruby, which often collapsed into self-parody. At least this time around directors Declan O’Dwyer and Robin Sheppard maintain some kind of control over the material.

Jemima Rooper is also truly and shockingly watchable as Olivia. She will definitely make game viewers hoot and holler when she gives nasty Malcolm what he has coming. Kelsey Grammer also brings a welcome blast of energy and humor as Malcolm Sr.’s wastrel father Garland, but sadly, his character will not survive for long. Max Irons certainly portrays Malcolm’s mean-spiritedness, but he lacks the commanding physicality of an Edward Rochester-type.

Make no mistake,
Origin is relentlessly lurid and often downright looney. Honestly, it periodic attempts to critique racial, gender, and class-based inequalities in the early 20th Century South are simply embarrassing, given its real reason for being is to revel in the incestuous scandals that distinguished Andrews’ novels. Still, it is much more professional and polished than Ruby, which was truly lame. For fans of Andrews’ books and Mommie Dearest, Flowers in the Attic: The Origin starts this Saturday (7/9) on Lifetime.