Pollyanna (2003)

Reviewer: Charity Bishop


Some stories never grow old. They remain just as captivating to an older reader as they were to the freckled youngster who discovered their delightful secrets while sitting beneath a tree in her backyard. Pollyanna is just such a tale. I loved the book as a child, and I love it as an adult. This recent adaptation is faithful to the novel, and will introduce new viewers into the wonderful world of an orphan girl that wins over the hearts of the entire village.


Polly Harrington (Amanda Burton) is the only occupant of the enormous sprawling house on the hillside overlooking the town. Known for her downcast countenance and standoffish nature, Polly is unexpectedly saddled with the care of her only niece, Pollyanna (Georgia Terry). The child's parents have died while serving in the mission fields, and Polly intends to "do her duty" and bring the girl up sensibly. Pollyanna is a vibrant little girl full of wonderful notions and simple kindness, obsessed about a game her father invented about finding the good in every situation. She rapidly wins over the adoration of their only servant, Nancy (Kate Ashfield), who is being innocently pursued by Polly's young driver, Tim (Tom Ellis). While their romance blossoms amidst Tim's obsession with motor cars and Aunt Polly's attempts to keep the spontaneous little girl under control, Pollyanna begins to work on the heart of a crotchety sick woman in the village.


Mrs. Snow (Pam Ferris) isn't the only one influenced by Pollyanna's sunny disposition. The town's physician Dr. Chiltern (Aden Gillett) believes her to be a finer tonic than medicine for his patients. Stumbling across wealthy Mr. Pendleton (Kenneth Cranham) at the bottom of a ridge, Pollyanna works through the rough exterior to reveal the man's generous heart, and unearths a secret bygone love affair. Convinced that Pendleton was once in love with Aunt Polly, the intrepid little girl schemes to bring them together again, but old rivalries die hard, and nothing is what it seems. From excitement over the "punishment" of having to sleep in Polly's room after rooftop antics to sly determination when it comes to outsmarting Mrs. Snow, Pollyanna has brought joy to every house in the village. But while sudden tragedy forces old alliances to be reborn and quarrels to be forgiven, it also threatens her happiness.


Very few books have such an obvious message as Pollyanna does, but the way in which it's presented never makes the reader feel as though they are being lectured. Full of simple truths and moral ethics, the story is actually a tale of optimism, of hope, of learning to transcribe to positive thinking and searching for the sunny side in every situation. The contrast between the exuberant little girl overflowing with joy and her aunt, a woman shaken by pride and unhappiness because of an unforgiving nature, is evident. Aunt Polly is never truly the villain of the piece, although at first it may seem that way when she places Pollyanna into the most dismal room in the house. Gradually we see a change overcome Polly, as she learns to have faith in humanity and seek joy again, if not for her sake then the child that has entered her heart and household. There are downcast hours in their lives, some of them a little too dark for very young viewers, but the story has a happy ending.


Although not a piece of English literature, Masterpiece Theatre has brought in British actors with varying thick accents. They all do a sublime job, particularly young Georgina in the leading role. The production values are very good, creating an atmospheric existence in which even rainstorms have a subtle beauty. One of the things I appreciated most was how the humor of the book has been delicately woven into the screenplay, creating a series of delightful incidents and snippets of dialogue. You cannot help but smile when, after hearing Tim go on about how automobiles are the future, Aunt Polly quips, "You once thought the Titanic was the future," or after being ordered to go to his room, young Jimmy Bean replies, "Which one?" Everything is plain enough for children to understand, but holds deeper meaning for adults. There is no content to speak of, except for thematic events. A man is found at the foot of a ravine with a broken leg. An auto car comes along the lane and hits someone (impact unseen). Polly and Pendleton engage in a shouting match. Conversation revolving around "lovers" is present on numerous occasions, but it's mean in the sense of being sweethearts. It's a movie that will touch your heart, bring an occasional tear to your eye, and endure forever as one of the wonderful children's classics that is actually for grown ups.