Some of my most favorite childhood memories are of winter nights when my family read books aloud together. There was everything from C.S. Lewis to Janette Oke. It’s no surprise that when the Hallmark Channel undertook some of Janette’s most beloved novels, I was first in line to see them. Now following the somewhat disappointing Love Comes Softly series, they’ve tackled her Canadian West novels.  

Young Beth Thatcher (Poppy Drayton) has only ever wanted one thing; to make a difference by becoming a teacher. After earning her teaching certificate, Beth’s cultured upbringing assumes she’ll get a post not far from her home in the east only to instead be given a posting in the rugged mining town of Coal Valley. When indecision over the post plagues her along with her sister’s taunting she wouldn’t survive she finds her Aunt Elizabeth’s journal, and life suddenly changes. Reading about the life of Elizabeth (Maggie Grace), Beth slowly begins to learn more about the aunt she never knew… 

Leaving her Eastern life to become a teacher in the unforgiving frontier, Elizabeth Thatcher faces the harsh realities of adjusting to a new place without the amenities of home, but with love for her students and all the joy they bring to her life, Elizabeth adjusts. Then she meets Wynn Delaney (Stephan Amell), a handsome Mountie whose courage and kind attention to Elizabeth slowly makes her rethink what she thought she always wanted.

Much like Janette’s popular Love Comes Softly series, this foursome of novels was once a favorite. I like that it was so different than the ‘Love’ saga and if memory serves correctly I was always fond of Elizabeth. Of course, the leading man being in uniform had nothing to do with my attraction either – after all, it’s not like I have a thing for noble guys who “serve and protect” or anything like that. Really, I don’t. Learning who had been cast in this telefilm was also another form of temptation since I’ve seen Amell (Arrow) and Grace (Taken) in prior roles that I’d respected; now they brought to life the charming characters of Wynn and Elizabeth Delaney splendidly (needless to say, I’ll avoid gushing) along with the rest of the cast which includes newcomer Drayton (who was an easily lovable heroine) Cheri Lunghi and briefly, Lori Loughlin.
 
When Calls the Heart Stephen Amell

The closer the release of this 2-hour film came, the more conflicting news there was about it. If you’re confused by there being not one but two “Elizabeth Thatcher’s” in the story, never fear, you aren’t seeing double. Here are the facts of this Michael Landon Jr. script. Instead of being a one-time telefilm, this was actually the launch (a pilot film) for an upcoming original series on Hallmark Channel. Set to premiere in 2014, the series (also titled When Calls the Heart) is not only going to recast its primary cast, its main story line will be chronicling Elizabeth Thatcher’s name sake; here Elizabeth and Wynn’s story is told through flashbacks and Beth is the girl we follow in the "present" timeline. To confess, I thought said evocations were sweet and timed nicely however as a girl who was expecting to watch Elizabeth and Wynn’s story come to life, a part of me was disappointed.

That being said, perhaps this is better since, now I won’t be able to count on the series following beloved novels (just the same, I expect some things will be dealt with as a kind of “throwback” to the novels) religiously. There is also a sense of admiration I have for this change; it’ll be fun to watch a new saga unfold, and we won’t be able to predict by flipping through the pages of a novel.  

What is charismatic about this script was the unexpected bouts of humor – it adds some sass and permits more personality. Then there is the “missing” element; the romance. Sure, there are some great pairings however because of limited screen time, we never feel swept away by the love story. Beth I can forgive because unless I miss my guess she’ll be dealing with plenty of romantic angst, however assuming that the Delaney’s story is over, it’d have been nice to be gifted a more complete picture of their story rather than focusing on Beth. The pretty costumes make up for any minor quibbles though some of the details are “too big” or “gaudy” for the otherwise simple albeit pretty dresses. Adding atmosphere are the shots of countryside and the script isn’t half bad.

If you like sweet prairie romance or fiction, this movie is for you. The ending is surprisingly ambiguous however given this being the origins of a series, I totally understand that and considering that frame, it’s almost necessary to leave viewer’s wanting so much more.  

CONTENT: In veiled references, a man hints that he’d be willing to allow for certain working privileges if a woman were to sleep with him; a woman assumes a married man is flirting with her. There are some pranks played between siblings [poison ivy, setting mice loose] and a stagecoach is robbed without much fuss. The film is rated TVPG.