This 2003 Masterpiece Theatre version of "Pollyanna" is the ultimate feel-good movie and because it is a bit less sappy than the 1960 Disney version you can enjoy repeated viewings anytime you need some cheering up. The new version is also more faithful to Eleanor Porter's original 1913 story and more focused on characterization than on elaborate set design and visual dynamics (there is no town fair and the comic relief has a more mature quality). And the setting is moved to Edwardian England with liberal use of wide angle lenses to capture the lush countryside.
The real improvement, however, is in the casting of the title character. Georgina Terry, with her red hair and freckles, projects such effortless charm that even the most cynical should be won over. Hayley Mills' performance was more forced and she was really too old for the role. Terry's Pollyanna is much more convincing, both in her continuing attachment to her father and in her struggles to play his glad game in the face of so much adversity. "I suppose it's as easy to be happy about things as to not be". This struggle was at the core of Porter's story and the 2003 version makes a real effort to construct a multi-dimensional Pollyanna who would have met with Porter's and her readers' approval.
Otherwise, the physical casting of the two movies are amazingly similar. Amanda Burton and Pam Ferris in particular conjure up vivid memories of their predecessors Jane Wyman and Agnes Moorehead. Burton portrays Aunt Polly more sympathetically, much more in line with Porter's original characterization. Instead of a ruthless and conniving queen bee, she is more hurt than mean. The tip off comes early as she amusingly allows herself to be persuaded by Tim (Tom Ellis) to purchase a motor car. Tim provides most of the film's comic relief as his prowess with automobiles is contrasted with his shy and awkward romantic overtures toward Nancy (both motor car and romance are creations of the adaptation and not part of the Porter's original story). And Aunt Polly's obsession with flies is nicely played for laughs.
There is a trade-off between the versions relative to the characters. Moorehead's Mrs. Snow was more memorable and entertaining; Ferris is not given enough material. Conversely, Kenneth Cranham (Mr. Pendleton) has more to work with than did Adolphe Menjou (Mr. Pendergast) and is not handicapped by having to share scenes with Kevin Corcoran. As in the book, the less irritating Jimmy Bean (Ben Thornton) of the 2003 version has a smaller role and there is more emphasis on Pollyanna's individual relationship with Mr. Pendleton (who was once in love with Pollyanna's mother).
The only real weakness of the Masterpiece Theatre version was the need to adapt the story to a compressed 90-minute running time. This was to some extent a mixed blessing because while there are transitional gaps, the time constraints forced them to get creative ant this led to some nice sequences. A montage of a bewildered Aunt Polly receiving a parade of townspeople extolling Pollyanna's virtues is especially good, and it nicely sets her up for a mild scolding by Nancy about not allowing Pollyanna to speak openly about her father. They also responded positively to the running time issue by jumping right into the story at the beginning (just running the titles over the scene) and by wrapping things up with an understated ending that let the audience just interpret what they were seeing.
The "Pollyanna" story has a timeless appeal for children who get off on her ability to influence adults but this film version is also a wonderful family film. This convincing story of how an 11-year-old girl's indomitable spirit positively impacts everyone around her offers enough nuances to keep adults entertained and may even elicit a few tears from otherwise cynical observers.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
Drama / Family
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1 hr 37 min