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Lifetime's 'Flowers in the Attic' Better Than Movie Version
January 17, 2014  | By Jonathan Storm  | 2 comments

Three beautifully cast pros from three generations come together Saturday night at 8 ET on Lifetime to give Flowers in the Attic a lot more juice than you might expect from that cable network, or from the second cinematic rendering of the insanely popular book, since the first one, in 1987, was so bad.

Grandma is Ellen Burstyn, whose crazily repressed religious fanatic is wrapped tighter than the stern gray bun of her hair. Mama is wide-eyed Heather Graham, languidly coming and going and neglecting her children, empty inside. "Look at me," she says early in the film. "I'm an ornament."

And darling daughter is Kiernan Shipka, most famous as the struggling adolescent of AMC's Mad Men, Sally Draper. Shipka, who's now all of 14, gets herself into child roles with grownup themes. She's won awards for playing Sally, whose psychological and sexual awakening has been palpably painful for her, her parents and stepmother, and the audience.

In Flowers, she plays a kid (here comes a spoiler, if there can be one for a book that's sold more than 40 million copies) who gets involved in incest while locked in an attic with her two brothers and sister for three years, four months, and 16 days. The first movie version avoided the incest angle completely.

"Even though I do a lot of more dramatic scenes, there’s a really solid separation between my life and my character’s life," Shipka said at Lifetime's Television Critics Association press conference last week. "So luckily it’s never seeped into my everyday sort of life."

Luckily, indeed.

It is a movie, so Lifetime's rendering of Attic does not convey the soul-sucking tedium of the children's confinement nearly as well as the thick book, but it's a satisfying, and sometimes shocking, watch, especially when Burstyn's Grandma Olivia pops in to throw a little fire and brimstone on the poor kids, and maybe punch or whip them a time or two.

Burstyn looks like she's enjoying this entertainingly over-the-top role. Maybe not.

"I know she was really glad ... when she was finished," Graham said. "She said, 'I can’t wait to get out of this character. It’s so disturbing.' But all the little kids were really excited to be scared by her. They were so excited for the scene where she kicks them and pulls their hair."

The book has an obsessive fan base, and this is one eagerly awaited TV Movie Event. At that level, it will probably be a little disappointing. But that won't stop the herd from showing up for the sequel, already announced by Lifetime, Petals on the Wind.

Kayla Alpert, who wrote the adaptation of Flowers, described it as “a very juicy and compelling revenge drama.”

It can't possibly encompass all the crazy things that happened in that book over the course of 15 years. Lifetime, in fact,  says the show takes place about 10 years after Flowers ends, when  Cathy (Shipka's character) is 25.

ABC's Revenge seems on a bit of downward spiral. Maybe Emily VanCamp and Madeleine Stowe can get in on this sequel...

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Jonathan Storm
I've got about 12 "Revenges" stored in my TiVo. It's hanging by a thread. But then I have a crush on Emily VanCamp....
Jan 19, 2014   |  Reply
I can't comment on Flowers in the Attic, but I read the last line and thought . . . "Yikes. A TV critic actually watches Revenge. Maybe I don't have to feel so ashamed! I agree it is getting pretty bad . . . A guilty pleasure after Downton Abbey and Good Wife.
Jan 17, 2014   |  Reply
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