The title of the new Amazon offering “The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart,” with its echo of V.C. Andrews’s Gothic novels of family calamity, is a case of truth in advertising. The seven-episode Australian mini-series, which is based on the novel by Holly Ringland and premiered Thursday on Prime Video, is an unapologetic melodrama — a family saga in which lies and secrets proliferate beyond all reason, putting parents and children, friends and bystanders, through unnaturally intense storms of emotion.
That it’s also entertaining, moving and vividly atmospheric is a pleasant surprise in a time when melodrama tends toward the banal (some variety of soap opera) or the scolding (some variety of humorless social critique). “Lost Flowers” is a reminder that when it is handled with skill, sophistication and a measure of restraint, melodrama can be as satisfying as any other style of storytelling.
The story involves a complicated web of relationships centering on Thornhill, a flower farm that doubles as a refuge for troubled women, who are called “flowers.” Some of the women, though not all of them, are escaping abusive men. The farm is run by a forbidding matriarch, June (Sigourney Weaver), with the help of her Indigenous lover, Twig (Leah Purcell), and their adopted daughter, Candy (Frankie Adams).
June is one pole of a story in which the keeping of shameful family secrets is the foundation of tragedy. The other pole is Alice, who is a child when we first see her (played by Alyla Browne) and knows nothing about June, her grandmother. Savage events unite them early on so that they can spend the rest of the series being drawn together and, as Alice works her way through June’s lies, torn apart again.
Most of the first half of “Lost Flowers” is tied to the point of view of this young Alice, and the director and cinematographer, Glendyn Ivin and Sam Chiplin, give these episodes the seductive texture of an ominous, doom-tinged fairy tale. Using the strangely beautiful landscape of the New South Wales coast, they create an ambience that reflects Alice’s childlike, wavering apprehension of the unreasoning violence that regularly bursts into her life.
They are helped immensely by Browne, who gives a terrific performance even though Alice spends several episodes mostly mute while recovering from trauma. Sadness, rebelliousness and a puckish sense of humor are there in her eyes. Though she shares the screen with Weaver and with the Australian star Asher Keddie, who plays a sympathetic but self-righteous local librarian, Browne draws you right to her.
Midway through, the series jumps ahead more than a decade, and Alice, now a young woman played by Alycia Debnam-Carey, finds herself in another magical setting — this time a national park where a volcanic crater provides a haven for wildflowers.
The change of scenery is symbolic — away from the protection of the farm, Alice is free both to find herself and to start repeating harmful family patterns when it comes to men. And the writing, led by the series’s showrunner, Sarah Lambert, dries out a little along with the landscape. These episodes feel more like something we’ve seen before, though a bit of the earlier enchantment lingers in a plot strand involving Twig’s long road trip in search of Alice.
What carries you through, finally — as you might expect — is Weaver. “Lost Flowers” doesn’t play to her traditional strengths — the taciturn, bottled-up June doesn’t provide much of a canvas for Weaver’s regal-yet-feral intelligence or her deadly sense of humor. She can get more out of sheer presence and stubborn charisma, however, than most performers do from busily acting, and in the later episodes she takes over, carrying off some wonderful moments as June slows down and opens up. Weaver’s work in series has been sparse and unpredictable; getting to spend seven episodes with her is the icing on the melodrama.
Content Source: www.nytimes.com