Thursday, February 24, 2011

Beyond the Prairie The True Story of Laura Ingalls Wilder

I finally had time to sit down and watch Beyond Prairie: True Story of Laura Ingalls Wilder before it is due back to the library. A week flies by fast and I did not want to renew it.

The reviews of this had left me with questions about how I would enjoy it. Some hated Disney's The Little House on the Prairie because it dared to contradict Michael Landon's Little House on the Prairie: The Complete Television Series. Never having been a fan of Landon's series I went into watching the Disney version of Laura's early life with an open mind and it inspired me to research and read more about her life.

I was hoping that this second movie would be equally as good. Sadly, while I disagree with many of the reviews I read, this was not equal to the first movie. Many of the reviews took issue with the color of Meredith Monroe's hair because she is blond and Laura was a brunette. They also were upset that Barbara Reams, a red head, played Mary instead of a blond actress. While many claimed to be Ingalls’ scholars, what confirmed ignorance of the subject to me was many complaints about the failure to include Nellie Olsen in the story. While the TV series kept the Olsen and the Ingalls families in Walnut Grove together, those who actually have studied Laura's life know that the two separated when Laura's family moved to DeSmet. Nellie was never a part of Laura's adult life.

I saw a few problems with this movie. First, it falls far short of being the true story of Lara Ingalls Wilder. The movie adds details and episodes that are not included in Laura's books or in any biographical information commonly known about Laura and Almanzo. The second fault is the timeline. The book starts during The Long Winter (Little House). I was interested in seeing this done as a movie. Unfortunately, this is where the problems started. All movie writers have to select scenes from the material they have available to write their screenplay. What never made sense to me is what was selected and what was left out. Why did the writers feel a need to supplement, when so much wonderful material was left on the cutting floor because there was simply not enough time in a mini-series to include all of her adult life?

I thought the writers did a great job in capturing Pa Ingalls and providing Richard Thomas with material to bring Charles Ingalls to life for the first time. While many love Michael Landon's version he is no reflection of the Charles Ingalls of Laura's books or any biographical information that exists about the man. Unlike many of the reviewers, I also liked Lindsay Crouse as Caroline Ingalls. Again, many look to the Little House TV series, but if you read the books, you realize Ma was not a wallflower. She did have an influence on her husband. By the time, they had settled in DeSmet she and Pa did discuss his desire to move even though he had promised her they would never move again. After Laura married, with a blind adult daughter and two young daughters to consider Carline's concern is reasonable and even expected. Whether the scene would have happened as demonstrated in this movie is questionable. However, having the scene open to the audience did make the couple more real.

I liked Meredith Monroe as Laura. She showed an adult Laura that Melissa Gilbert never seemed to achieve. The problem I had with Laura's character is the writers felt a need to supplement her story. She and Almanzo had an interesting relationship, romance, and marriage. Yet, somehow, it was deemed not interesting enough so the writers sought to add details that did not exist and splice events together to make things happen in an order that did not seem natural. In doing so, they lost the chance to present the true story as promised.

One constant complaint I had while watching the movie is I always felt I was walking in on the end of a scene. I do not know if it was edited after filming or written that way, but there are scenes that seem to make no sense because it feels like you missed a scene. Laura goes off to teach school and Almanzo picks her up and asks her to marry him. In fact, Laura goes off the first time to teach school in Little Town on the Prairie. However, unlike the movie presents it that is not the only time Laura teaches. Almanzo does not marry her after her first teaching job. She returns to school and actually teaches again. The author creates an elaborate outdoor honeymoon for the couple and then we meet Rose. We never see them as a couple and the struggles that first year brought them. Before we know it, Laura is delivering her second child, just as we realize she is pregnant again and the story is changed to a stillbirth.

While the movie does mention Laura and Almanzo's bouts with diphtheria, no mention is made of their moves from De Smet to live first with family and then to Florida to see if the climate would help Almanzo regain his strength. Instead, the movie condenses the story, leaving out the moves. This leaves Laura and Almanzo in De Smet for the entire time. They only leave to head to Missouri where they would make their final home.

The movie was divided into two parts. The DVD I had had both on one. The second part focused on the time period after The First Four Years (Little House). With Almanzo too ill to work the homestead, Laura and Almanzo have decided to relocate. Of course, the movie ignores the fact they have already moved several times. If you read biographies of Laura, you discover Almanzo had read literature on Missouri and hoped that apple growing in Missouri would be a better situation for them. The movie implies Laura was constantly working at becoming a writer. Nothing in her biographies suggests that. In fact, Laura was working on helping Almanzo support the family. Laura helped earn the money that provided the income to buy the property in Missouri. That fact the movie ignores completely. Laura did keep a journal about their wagon trip to Missouri. Her journals were edited and published after her death.

The movie spends a great deal of time on the Wilder's hired hand and hints at a relationship between Laura and the man. We are told the sad story of the man's life and the loss of his wife and child as a means of connecting to Laura's loss of her son. There is a focus on Rose's trouble in school and an incident where she is lost in a cave and Laura and the handyman find her. During all this time Almanzo is nowhere to be found as he is struggling with continued side effects of his diphtheria exposure. This was a problem for me. Almanzo did struggle with reduced physical abilities for the remainder of his life. However, there is no indication that he disappeared from farm life completely. There is no evidence he would have left Laura to negotiate and consult with the hired help. This just kept leading me back to what the writers chose to include and all the MANY incidents they left out that could have been included in the time allowed.

I do not regret watching the movie. It was worth it to see a good portrayal of Charles Ingalls and not to see Mary married and teaching at the school for the blind. While this version played with the truth, at least some facts remained. I was glad to see they did include Laura's final trip home to see her father, mother, and Mary before they died. There are many complaints that the Ingalls family was not included more in Laura's adult life. However, travel was not inexpensive. With Almanzo's physical challenges, leaving him could not have been easy. Rose paid for Laura's expenses when she went to California to see her and Laura worried greatly about Almanzo while she was gone. Instead of making up stories about how Laura got interested in writing, it would have been wonderful to see Laura as a farm writer working from home to help pay off the mortgage on the farm. If the writers eliminated the farm hand stories, there would have been time.

I hope that someone will do film justice to the adult story of Laura Ingalls Wilder one day.

1 comment:

  1. I never really watched this show. I am sure I would enjoy it though!