As far as a successful adaptation of a novel to a movie goes, Lifetime’s Flowers in the Attic at least gets it right in hitting all the important plot points of the book. Father dies: check. Children move to their grandmother’s house and are cooped up in the attic for years: check. The oldest children, Cathy and Chris, develop an incestuous relationship: check (and yikes). Children learn of their mother’s deceit: check. Children escape: check.
The casting of Flowers in the Attic was spot on; the actors chosen to play the Dollangangers certainly look the part of the perfect family, which causes their friends to refer to them as Dresden Dolls. Heather Graham portrays the mother, Corrine, while Chad Willett plays Chris Sr. As for the eldest son, they managed to find an actor, Mason Dye, who looks very much like a younger version of his father. Kiernan Shipka narrates the story as the eldest daughter, Cathy, while Ava Telek and Maxwell Kovach play the twins. However, it’s Ellen Burstyn as the feared grandmother who really pulls out all the stops in her role. Burstyn is the biggest name attached to the film and she certainly proves to be the heavyweight of the cast.
I have to give the movie credit for not shying away from the more controversial aspects of Flowers in the Attic. As the two-hour TV movie follows the twists and turns laid out like a road map by the novel, Cathy and Chris develop their romantic relationship for which the book is most famous. Although, as fans of the book can tell you, the night Cathy and Chris finally get together (yeah, they go all the way) is much less violent than in the original story. Flowers in the Attic makes the relationship as uncomfortable for the audience as possible.
However, despite the casting and the accuracy of the adaption, Flowers in the Attic still falls flat. It’s difficult to make the audience feel as if years are passing throughout a two-hour movie. It’s hard to take lines like “We’re not children anymore, can’t you see that?” seriously when the actors don’t look as if they’ve aged a day. Earlier in the movie, Chris tells Cathy that she should hope to develop curves like a dress form — when clearly the audience can see that Shipka already has all those curves.
Even more than the unrealistic dialogue, though, is the fact that the audience never really gets to know the characters. The movie is so busy checking events and plot points off the list that it never stops to take a breath. The end result is a movie that might look like a good adaptation — they did cover everything — but feels too rushed and harried. You could say Flowers in the Attic is much like the dolls that Cathy references in the opening monologue: pretty and seemingly all there, but with no substance.