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The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart

You don’t need to know that Prime Video’s seven-part mini-series “The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart” is based on a book to sense it. With a narrative that sprawls over years and ties various traumas and their associated grief into complex character beats, it’s the kind of thing that clearly worked on the page. That’s why Holly Ringland’s novel of the same name became an international hit, attracting one of our best-living actresses to director Glendyn Ivin and creator Sarah Lambert's adaptation. Inconsistent Australian accent aside, Sigourney Weaver’s work here is among the best of her luminous career, tackling a challenging role with subtlety and grace. There are times when the pace of “Alice Hart” can be glacial, but it’s worth being patient with its early chapters, which set the stage for a study of generational loss and the horrible mistakes people make in protecting loved ones.

Introduced as a child, Alice Hart (Alyla Brown) lives in a state of constant threat at the hands of her abusive father, Clem (Charlie Vickers). She adores her mother, Agnes (Tilda Cobham-Hervey), who is captured almost as a mythical creature in the early chapters in how a child can view an adult they want to save. Mom can’t be human. She must be a selkie who can escape this horror. When Alice wanders into town one day, she catches the attention of a librarian named Sally (Asher Keddie), setting in motion a sequence of events that will lead to the death of Agnes and Clem, forcing Alice to go live with her grandmother June (Sigourney Weaver) on a flower farm called Thornfield that’s actually a women’s shelter. At first, Alice doesn’t speak, but the other residents of the farm, particularly Candy (Frankie Adams) and June’s partner Twig (Leah Purcell), help her recover.

June Hart is a fascinating character, a distant, cold woman who seems almost put out by having Alice around even though she fights with Sally for custody of the child. The narrative jumps halfway through the season to Alice as a young adult (now played excellently by Alycia Debnam-Carey), and several decisions that June made in that time-leap come to the fore, which she thought were protecting Alice but at a great cost. The final stretch of the season also gives June a disease, which seems manipulative at first, but allows Weaver some of the richest dramatic material of her career as she comes to terms with the choices she made, the traumas that shaped her, and how both planted the seeds for Alice’s lost flowers.

“The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart” is clearly a melodrama, but Ivin centers character and setting over manipulative plotting in its best chapters. He alternates shots that linger on minor details with gorgeous shots of the Australian landscape from cinematographer Sam Chiplin, set to a moody, effective score by Hania Rani. It’s a remarkably well-made piece of adult drama, even if the pace undeniably drags at times. In the era of “Everything is the Wrong Length,” it truly does feel like there’s a great 130-minute-or-so movie in this story. But that version would admittedly lose the show’s accumulation of small joys and how the writers let these excellent performers live in these roles instead of just running in and out of the spotlight.

That lived-in sense really anchors the work of Debnam-Carey, who viewers feel like they know by the time she’s stuck with the very-wrong guy after running away from Thornfield. The final episode forces too many revelations on Alice via exposition dumps and flashbacks, but the young actress sells every response as genuine. Along with Weaver, she grounds the piece in a way that can’t be undervalued, never allowing her key role to spin off into soapy melodrama. The residents of Thornfield learn to communicate with flowers instead of words, and the show is arguably at its best when it’s saying less with actual language, letting an emotional stare or heartfelt hug convey all that needs to be said and all that can someday be found.

The whole series was screened for review. "The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart" is on Prime Video now.

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Managing Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and GQ, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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Film Credits

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart movie poster

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart (2023)

Rated NR

420 minutes

Cast

Sigourney Weaver as June Hart

Alycia Debnam Carey as Alice Hart

Asher Keddie as Sally

Leah Purcell as Twig

Frankie Adams as Candy

Charlie Vickers as Clem

Alexander England as John

Tilda Cobham-Hervey as Agnes

Director

Writer (based on the book by)

Writer (created for television by)

Writer

Cinematographer

Editor

Composer

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