Category: Books

Angela Lansbury, Michael Gambon and Emily Watson Cast in ‘Masterpiece: Little Women’ on PBS

Principal photography is about to commence on a new version of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” for PBS’ “Masterpiece,” and now we know some of the key roles.

Originally published in two volumes, in 1868 and 1869 (and followed by “Little Men”), “Little Women” follows the lives of the four March sisters — Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy — and their beloved mother, Marmee, as they pass from girlhood to young adulthood in New England during the years surrounding the Civil War (the story begins their father away, serving as a chaplain in the Union Army).

BAFTA Award-winner Emily Watson (“The Theory of Everything,” “Genius”) will play Marmee. Starring as the sisters are Maya Hawke (Jo), Willa Fitzgerald (Meg), Annes Elwy (Beth) and Kathryn Newton (Amy). Dame Angela Lansbury (“Murder, She Wrote”) plays the girls’ wealthy relative, the cantankerous Aunt March. Michael Gambon (“Harry Potter”) plays kindly neighbor Mr. Laurence; and Jonah Hauer-King (“Howard’s End”) plays his grandson, Laurie Laurence, the quintessential boy next door.

“Little Women” is Playground production for the BBC and “Masterpiece,” with a production team from the U.K. and U.S. Hedi Thomas (“Call the Midwife,” “Cranford”) is the writer, with Vanessa Caswill directing.

From the press release announcing the production:

Writer and executive producer Thomas says: “Little Women is one of the most loved novels in the English language, and with good reason. Its humanity, humour and tenderness never date, and as a study of love, grief and growing up it has no equal. There could be no better time to revisit the story of a family striving for happiness in an uncertain world, and I am thrilled to be bringing the March girls to a new generation of viewers.”

“The mini-series is a storytelling form unique to television, and the opportunity to adapt Louisa May Alcott’s novel over three hours is a gift from the BBC and MASTERPIECE on PBS,” said executive producer Callender. “This is a character study of young women rich in texture and detail, and it’s an honour to be able to bring it to life in this extended form with the great Heidi Thomas, one of the finest writers working in television today. In the hands of the exciting directorial style of filmmaker Vanessa Caswill we hope to deliver a new screen version that will speak to contemporary audiences, meet the expectations of the book’s ardent fans and bring a whole new generation to this great classic.”

“Bringing alive this beloved American novel for a new generation of PBS viewers is a dream come true,” said Beth Hoppe, Chief Programming Executive and General Manager, General Audience Programming, PBS. “In the hands of Rebecca Eaton and Colin Callender’s Playground, and with the superb talents of writer Heidi Thomas, we are confident this story of strong women will resonate with both new and longtime fans of MASTERPIECE.”

No premiere date has yet been announced, but it seems unlikely we’ll see this before mid- to late-2018.

Image: Courtesy Amazon.com (Kindle Edition); Wikimedia Commons

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

John Wayne and Steve McQueen: Finding Faith at the End

Hollywood stars John Wayne and Steve McQueen apparently found new faith — and not a moment too soon.

Friday, May 26, is the birthday of Wayne, born Marion Robert Morrison in Winterset, Iowa, in 1907. He died on June 11, 1979, at the age of 72, from stomach cancer (after surviving lung cancer).

He was baptized a Presbyterian, but he married three Catholic women, and his children and grandchildren were raised Catholic (we know the first wife never remarried after the divorce and continued to pray for Wayne’s conversion).

One grandson, Father Matthew Munoz, is a priest in the Diocese of Orange in Southern California.

Because of his spouses, Wayne moved in Catholic circles and became good friends in Los Angeles with Archbishop Tomas Clavel. But, he still didn’t become Catholic.

But, as told in an article at ChurchPop:

Then, in 1979, as he was dying of cancer and surrounded by his family in his home, he finally decided to join the Catholic Church. He requested for Archbishop Clavel to come to his house, but he was too ill to come, and so another archbishop in the diocese was sent.

Wayne was received into the Catholic Church and then died just two days later.

Why did he wait until his deathbed to convert? His grandson explained that Wayne was regretful about not becoming a Catholic sooner, blaming “a busy life.”

That other archbishop was Archbishop Mark McGrath, C.S.C., of Panama City, Panama, a member of the Holy Cross Order — which also operates Holy Cross Family Ministries and its subsidiary, Family Theater Productions.

I contacted Father Willy Raymond, President of HCFM and former head of FTP, to ask about Wayne, since there is a parking spot for him in the lot at the FTP offices on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.

While Fr. Willy — as he’s widely known from his years in Los Angeles — doesn’t believe that Wayne ever worked for Family Theater Productions or its founder, Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C., but his “The Quiet Man” co-star Maureen O’Hara did (and she also has a parking space, as does fellow Catholic and “Quiet Man” director John Ford).

Fr. Willy wrote back:

I had a long conversation with Maureen O’Hara, who said that she loved John Wayne and loved working with him. He was always a perfect gentleman, always well-prepared.

There was never anything inappropriate in their relationship, but she said one of the great joys of her life was working with John Wayne on “The Quiet Man.”

He added that Wayne’s son, Michael Wayne, was a regular donor to the Angelus Student Film Festival, which FTP used to run, and that he was a member of a Catholic parish in the San Fernando Valley.

Now, although Wayne came into the Catholic Church on his deathbed, he was already a Christian.

The same can’t be said of the late conversion of actor Steve McQueen, who died of malignant mesothelioma in Mexico in 1980 at the age of 50.

As related in the upcoming book, “Steve McQueen: The Salvation of an American Icon,” coming out on June 13, Southern California Evangelical preacher Greg Laurie (co-author with McQueen expert Marshall Terrill) relates that McQueen had a dramatic conversion experience near the end of his life.

From The Christian Post:

The book includes interviews conducted by Terrill and Laurie with people who were close to McQueen and can attest to his spiritual transformation, such as McQueen’s widow, Barbi, the pastor of McQueen’s church, McQueen’s flight instructor and even a metabolic technician who served McQueen in the days leading up to his death.

“There was a statement that McQueen made, which was, ‘My only regret in life was that I was not able to tell others about what Jesus Christ did for me,'” Laurie said, quoting what McQueen had told Pastor Leonard DeWitt of Ventura Missionary Church before he died.

“I thought, that’s a wrong that needs to be righted,” Laurie added.

According to the book, McQueen began asking profound questions about the reliability of the Bible and the nature of Christianity, with the help of his pastor, a flying instructor and a stuntman friend.

McQueen met with renowned evangelist Dr. Billy Graham in his last days. The book relates how his son, Chad McQueen, found his father holding tight to the Bible that Graham had given him, and that it was with him when he died.

Here’s a video of Laurie discussing McQueen’s conversion at an Evangelical event last year:

God works in His own way and in His own time. Of course, it’s better to come to the realization of faith as soon as possible, but the last guest to the banquet is as welcome as the first.

Images: Flickr: Steve Avery (McQueen); Wikimedia Commons; Family Theater Productions/Kate O’Hare

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ on Hulu: What Should Catholics Think?

Hulu-Handmaids-Tale-Offred-Elisabeth-Moss-FFBOn Wednesday, April 26, Hulu premieres a 10-episode adaptation of Canadian author Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel, “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

Many secular critics are in a lather, fretting that the series somehow represents the near future. The story is set in an alternate present (Uber is even mentioned) when environmental pollution has devastated female fertility, and a war has caused Gilead, an oppressive theocratic dictatorship, to break off from the United States.

Elisabeth Moss (“Mad Men”) stars as Offred, who is captured into this regime because she was proven to be fertile. Her husband was shot, and her daughter taken. Now she’s given over to a wealthy man and his barren wife as a “handmaid” — inspired by the story of Leah and Rachel in the Book of Genesis. Offred and her wealthy master (Joseph Fiennes) go through highly ritualized sex in hopes of producing offspring (which obviously does not please the wife, played by Yvonne Strahovski).

While the regime has Old Testament overtones (but no New Testament ones), it is emphatically not Catholic. True to Atwood’s novel — in which Quakers, Jews and Catholics are enemies of Gilead — a Catholic priest is seen hung in the first episode, along with others, including a gay man.

At a press event last summer, I asked executive producer Bruce Miller how faith was handled in the show. Here’s the exchange:

QUESTION: In the book Gilead is run under the auspices of a very specific form of biblical fundamentalism, and Quakers, Jews, Catholics are not welcome, not considered our friends at all. So, how do you deal with the religious aspects in the series?

BRUCE MILLER: Well, interestingly, in the book they’re dealt with in a very specific way. I mean, I don’t think they ever go to church once in the book. You know, it’s a society that’s based kind of in a perversion misreading of Old Testament laws and codes, but I don’t think — even Margaret Atwood said it isn’t — they aren’t Christians, the people who are running Gilead. You know, I think that we deal with it the same way they deal with it in the book. You know, in the pilot, in the next few episodes, they’re tearing churches down that are not — that are anything besides their sect. I think there are a lot of parallels between the book and certainly the TV show and life in Puritan times. And I would say that we use that as — or the writing staff has been using that as a big parallel. You know, this country gets a reputation for being a place where people came from religious freedom. The Puritans who came liked their religious freedom, but not anybody else’s. So, certainly, there were no other churches besides the Puritan church. And, so, the way that they dealt with outsiders is, I think, slightly nicer or slightly meaner than the people in Gilead. I think they branded Quakers on the forehead — didn’t they — with Qs and stuff like that, and sent them out of the state. So, I think we’re trying to harken back to that origin story for the — that Margaret used as the beginning for this book.

So, if any religious group gets a black eye in this, one supposes it’s the Puritans, and they’re not really around to complain.

Seems to me that the world has plenty of horrors these days perpetuated against women and girls about which high-profile Hulu series could be made — if one had the courage to risk upsetting political correctness.

Perhaps, it’s much easier to panic at imagined dangers than to portray real ones.

As Megan McArdle of Bloomberg.com sagely observes:

“The Handmaid’s Tale” is becoming less plausible a future with each passing year, no matter how hard feminists insist that there is only a brief and slippery slope between overturning Roe v. Wade and forcing women into state-sanctioned breeding programs.

With sexual content, violence and language, “The Handmaid’s Tale” is emphatically NOT for children, and if parents want to let high-schoolers watch it, I’d advise watching with them. It offers few new lessons beyond the power of mother love and the resilience of the human spirit — and you can get that without all the post-apocalyptic trappings and political messages.

Just look at Mary, the true handmaid of the Lord.

virgin_mary

Image: Courtesy Hulu; Wikimedia Commons

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

Struggling to Explain Easter to Small Children?

Baby-crucifixLent is nearly over and we are in the Holiest Week of the Year, but I have to admit that I’m still struggling to properly prepare my preschool-age children for Easter, which we will celebrate this Sunday.

For elementary-school kids, there are many great traditions that may begin with “giving something up” for Lent to honor the sacrifice of Jesus’ 40-day fast in the desert, and may end with making “Resurrection Eggs” to help visualize the story of Jesus dying for our sins and rising on Easter Sunday.

But if your children are not quite old enough to understand the concepts of sacrifice or death, explaining Easter can feel somewhat challenging.

However, letting my kids believe that Easter is just about chocolate and a bunny has not been sitting right with me. As parents, we’re often averse to talking about death with our little ones. We feel it’s too heavy for them to understand. We’re worried about scaring them. But as I contemplated this challenge, I realized that the story of Easter is actually a wonderful way to introduce my kids to the concept of death and to teach them about everlasting life as well. In fact, because of Jesus’ sacrifice, there is nothing for them to fear.

Thankfully, I found several books on Amazon to help convey the story of Easter to young children. Some of them are Prime eligible, so they’ll arrive in just a couple days. Some of them are available for immediate download:

Lily’s Easter Party: The Story of the Resurrection Eggs

The Week That Led To Easter

Benjamin’s Box: The Story of the Resurrection Eggs

The Berenstain Bears and the Easter Story

The Resurrection

God Gave Us Easter

This evening, we’re going to read one of the downloadable titles. Every night this week, we’ll make an Easter book part of our bedtime routine.

When we go to Mass this Sunday, they will no doubt have a deeper understanding of why we’re celebrating—and that will make the Easter baskets, the egg hunts and the chocolate treats all the more special.

Korbi is a former full-time TV blogger, writing for sites such as E! Online and Yahoo!. She is now a full-time mom of twin boys. In her free time, she moonlights as a Marriage, Family & Individual Therapist.

Images: Courtesy Laura Zambrana

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

Christopher Awards: ‘Hacksaw Ridge,’ ‘This Is Us,’ Dolly Parton and More …

Hacksaw-Ridge-This-Is-Us-ChristophersHollywood can often seem hostile to family values, but The Christopher Awards intend to honor good where it can be found, whether in movies, television or books.

The Christopher Awards were created in 1949 to celebrate writers, producers, directors, authors and illustrators whose work “affirms the highest values of the human spirit.”

Today, March 28, The Christophers — founded by Maryknoll priest Father James Keller in 1945 — released the 68th Annual Christopher Award winners, to be presented in New York City on May 16.

Said director of communications Tony Rossi:

“The powerful love of family is a thread in so many of our winning projects this year, be it family we’re related to by blood or those whose kindness and selflessness lead us to form an emotional and spiritual connection with them. These are the kinds of bonds that can change people’s lives and change the world.”

The movie winners are “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Hidden Figures,” “The Hollars” and “Queen of Katwe” (or own Father David Guffey reviewed that one). Said “Hidden Figures” director Ted Melfi (a previous winner for “St. Vincent” in 2014):

“Movies that entertain are the norm, but films that enlighten, educate and inspire are so rare, yet so important and the Christopher Award shines light on these films, further illuminating their footprint on the planet. As one candle has the ability to cast out darkness, such is the power of one film to impact hearts and minds for the better. It’s truly an honor to be considered for a Christopher Award…and an incredible blessing to be awarded one.”

The TV offerings blend TV-movies, scripted series and documentary. They are “60 Minutes: Gold Star Parents,” “America ReFramed: In the Game,” “Born This Way: Bachelor Pad,” “Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love,” “Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing” and hit freshman drama “This Is Us” (I had my say on that one).

Click here to read the whole release, including the rundown of worthy books for adults and young people.

Image: Courtesy NBC/Lionsgate

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

‘The Shack’: FTP’s Father David Guffey Talks About the Controversial New Movie

The-Shack-Sam-Worthington-Octavia-SpencerComing out this weekend, “The Shack,” based on best-selling book by William Paul Young, explores what happens when a grieving father (Sam Worthington) has an encounter with all three Persons of the Trinity, played by different actors — including “Hidden Figures” star Octavia Spencer as God the Father, or “Papa.”

Personifying the Trinity, and other aspects of the book’s theology, have caused some concerns.

Secular outlet The Hollywood Reporter had this to say:

With its sparkly spin on the New Testament, the film will be too New Agey for those who hew closely to doctrine (some conservative Christians have criticized the novel as a work of misguided heresy). But beyond theological debates, the feature is a leaden, belabored affair. However universal the perennial questions and struggles that The Shack illuminates, under Stuart Hazeldine’s plodding direction, its faith-based brand of self-help feels like being trapped in someone else’s spiritual retreat — in real time.

And this, from Catholic deacon and movie critic Steven Greydanus:

Like many popular sensations, from Titanic to Twilight, from Dan Brown to Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, The Shack is easy to rip apart if one has a mind to. It’s too didactic for drama, too literal for allegory, too artless for poetry, and too fuzzy for theology. The writing is folksy and florid; when Mack falls in his driveway, he doesn’t just get a bump on his head: The lump emerges “like a humpbacked whale breaching the wild waves of his thinning hair.”

Although an enthusiastic cover blurb from Eugene Peterson compares The Shack to Pilgrim’s Progress, generically and thematically it’s somewhat closer to C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. Lewis’ brilliant book, however, focuses on familiar foibles of human nature; Young attempts a portrait of sorts of the divine nature.

The Shack is essentially an imaginative exploration of theodicy, of the problem of evil, experienced not in the abstract, but as an existential crisis of faith. More broadly, it could be called a response to disappointment with God and disillusionment with religion.

David GuffeyAlso concerned, CatholicMom.com founder Lisa Hendey turned to our own Head of Production, Father David Guffey, C.S.C., to get his take. Here’s some of what he had to say:

The film is not a religious teaching on the doctrine of Trinity, any more than the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is a study of physical appearance of God. Each of these use artistic license to point to great truths of faith. Film is an art form and as art, evokes the imagination to discover mystery of life and the workings of God’s grace within it. I would not use this film to talk about Trinity, but instead as an opening to discuss the many ways that God is close to us and the ways that God actively tries to be part of our lives in the best of times and especially in the hardest of times.

I would encourage you to see this film with someone you can talk about it with afterwards. You will want to. It would be a great family movie night film the weekend of March 3, 2017.

After watching the film, invite family members to talk about the times in their life when they feel closest to God. Is it in nature or in a church or at a family gathering? How do we recognize the hand of God at work I the people around us and the events of our lives? Second, and perhaps more difficult, I would encourage a conversation on how the Phillips family coped with loss and grief.

Click here to read the whole thing.

Image: Courtesy Lionsgate

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.