The Awakening Land
A Television Miniseries (1978)
Pros: Montgomery; Holbrook; Macy; Seymour; music; feel.
Cons: Very little! Enjoy!
THE AWAKENING LAND is the 1978 dramatization of Conrad Richter’s trilogy of historical novels: THE TREES (1940), THE FIELDS (1946), and THE TOWN (1950); that tell the story of Sayward Luckett Wheeler and her family in 18th- and 19th-century Pennsylvania and what would become Ohio.
The miniseries originally aired on NBC over February 19-21, 1978. and took “forever” to become available on its 3-DVD set; my amazon.com review was dated March 7, 2011. It was one of several films that had never been released before, as the beginning of the DVD explains.
BEWITCHED’s Elizabeth Montgomery (in her early 40s in the mid-’70s) portrays Sayward, from perhaps late-teens (which she manages to carry off) into old age. She looks pretty much the same throughout, until a seriously dramatic transformation from the birth of her youngest child until he is about middle-grade age: she looks like she has aged far more than those 10-12 years. According to the books, this youngest child worried her the most, being the sickliest with a weak heart–she supposed that her advanced age at his birth and the robustness of his large number of siblings had not left her that much strength and vitality with which to nourish him.
Montgomery’s distinctive voice provides strong voice-over narration throughout. Parts 2 and 3 open with apt recaps that catch the viewer right up (which of course was much more important when 22 hours instead of mere minutes separated a viewer from a miniseries’ chapters). There is good period music and everyone looks fine in their frontier clothes.
Jane Seymour co-stars as Genny, the first of Sayward’s three younger sisters, and Derin Altay looks Pocahontas-y as the next sister, Achsa; Hal Holbrook portrays Sayward’s husband, Portius Wheeler; Devon Ericson portrays the young-adult version of Sayward’s daughter Huldah; and yes, that is a charmingly young William H. Macy in his very first screen role as Will Beagle, a local “bound boy” (indentured servant) who eventually becomes part of Sayward’s clan, and even sings some!
Michelle Stacy as Sulie Luckett and Theresa Landreth as Sulie Wheeler are both adorable. Dennis Dimster was fine as Sayward’s aforementioned “least one,” the puny but dreamy and ambitious Chauncey/”Chancy”. And Katy Kurtzman (well-credited, from a HEIDI project with Burl Ives to a stint on STRONG MEDICINE that was recent at the time of my amazon review) is wonderful as Rosa Tench, a playmate of Chancy’s who becomes a good friend and more…until they learn why their parents wish they wouldn’t have formed such a warm attachment to each other.
I was so glad to finally acquire the DVD (although it runs a bit differently than others–it’s “worth it”) and it really is a joy to watch, and have the echo in my mind as I re-read the books. It was definitely worth the wait.
And now that it’s been available for a few years, maybe it will be easier for those who are still wishing for it to finally bring it home.
Thanks for reading. God bless!