An old fashioned Thanksgiving – that’s what many of us wish for when the fourth Thursday in November comes around. We hope for the simplicity and beauty of friends and family gathered near and the warmth of the hearth – and heart – which remind us to be thankful for all that is good in our lives.
For Mathilda Basset, a headstrong teenager growing up in New Hampshire in the Victorian era in the late 1880s, a happy Thanksgiving seems out of reach. The Civil War has recently ended, her father has died and her mother, Mary, is struggling to make ends meet and support the family, which includes Mathilda (Tilly), her sister Prudence and their brother Solomon. Mathilda takes it upon herself to write to her estranged grandmother for help, but does so without the understanding of what has passed between her mother and her grandmother. The grandmother’s arrival changes everything, but not as Mathilda had planned.
Strong performances from the whole cast (Jacqueline Bisset plays the grandmother) and a timeless faith-based story make this Hallmark Channel movie a delightful watch for the whole family. The scenery feels authentic, as do the family struggles and the mother-daughter dynamics; balance is struck between a sweet tale, humorous moments, romance, charity, sorrow and healing. The period drama’s message, delivered without violence or strong language, is that nothing is more important than family, and it shows us the power of forgiveness.
The costumes are well done for a Hallmark Channel made for television movie and there are some nice historical touches. The film is unrated, but most would find the film to be suitable for children of all ages, (Dove awards the Dove “Family-Approved” Seal to the movie, for all ages) but younger children may not be interested. Despite their financial strife and difficult past, the movie makes you long to be a member of the Basset family; they are good, real and filled with love.
The film is available to stream and on DVD, and comes highly recommended for any day of the year that you want to watch a wholesome family period drama.
An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving (2008) is based on Louisa May Alcott’s story of the same title which you can read here. It was originally published as part of Aunt Jo’s Scrap-Bag, a collection of short stories that she wrote mostly for children, more than a decade after she first published the classic Little Women.
Can you think of other costume dramas and period films that revolve around Thanksgiving? There don’t seem to be many Thanksgiving centric period films, and if you are like me, Thanksgiving day is too early to watch the Christmas classics like It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street. (But when you are ready, here is the Best Period Dramas: Classic Christmas List from Willow and Thatch, including the film’s sequel An Old Fashioned Christmas. As soon as the cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie are gone it’s time for Christmas!)
An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving is heartwarming and is sure to become a classic holiday family favorite and tradition.
Mary Bassett: [Working on the Thanksgiving table cloth with Prudence and Solomon] Most people will have their Thanksgiving dinner and then it will be gone. We’ll have ours the whole year round.
Solomon Bassett: I’d like it better if there was pudding involved.
Speaking of Thanksgiving dinner, “Apple Slump,” a New England dumpling crust over a baked or steamed apple base was a favorite dessert for the Alcotts. Louisa, with her characteristic wit, thought it made a descriptive name for Orchard House (the family home), which was in constant need of repair from the day the family first purchased the property (the dessert was said to make grunting noises as it cooked down). You can purchase the recipe rendered with original art and calligraphy on the website for Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House.
You can also see a slightly adapted version of the recipe on Paper and Salt, a “Part historical discussion, part food and recipe blog, part literary fangirl-ing” website which attempts to recreate and reinterpret the dishes that iconic authors discuss in their letters, diaries, essays, and fiction.
Paper and Salt tells us that “The first mention of apple slump recorded in American Regional English is from 1831, just a year before Alcott was born, and though it has fallen out of fashion now in favor of cobblers and crumbles, it was an easy and popular way for New Englanders at the time to cook something delicious without much fuss.”
Willow and Thatch wishes you a wonderful, old fashioned Thanksgiving and is grateful for this space and opportunity to share some favorite period dramas with you. Somehow I think that lovers of costume dramas and period films are part of a big family, holding the same sentiments in their hearts.
For a terrific step-by-step apple tart recipe, see what Willow and Thatch whipped up after apple picking.
If you are interested in another costume drama that takes place in New England, you may want to see The Bostonians. It’s all together different from An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving, but is also set in the Victorian era, post Civil War:
In Boston in the aftermath of the Civil War, Verena Tarrant (Madeleine Potter), a gifted young orator, has attracted the attention of Olive Chancellor (Vanessa Redgrave), who wishes to nurture Verena as an inspirational force for the Womens’ Movement. But ranged against her is Basil Ransom (Christopher Reeve), a handsome male chauvinist, who wants Verena as his wife. Against a backdrop of luminous New England landscapes, battle is joined, and for Olive the struggle will prove an odyssey that forces her to acknowledge her true nature. Merchant Ivory Productions’ acclaimed screen adaptation of the Henry James classic charts the struggle between two charismatic forces to gain control over the destiny of a spirited young woman.
If you enjoyed this post, you’ll want to wander over to the full (growing!) list of recommended best period films and romantic and historical costume dramas, all sorted by era and theme, in The Period Films List. You may also be interested in American Masters: Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women (2015).
Louisa May Alcott was no little woman, and her life was no children’s book; her story is as full of incident, surprise, and heroism as any plot she invented. The daughter of improvident educator Bronson Alcott, Louisa was homeschooled by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, served as a nurse in the Civil War, fought for women’s suffrage, and lived a secret life as the author of lurid pulp fiction until Little Women lifted her and her family from rags to riches and literary celebrity.
Starring Elizabeth Marvel (House of Cards, Lincoln), directed by Nancy Porter (NOVA, AMERICAN EXPERIENCE), written by Harriet Reisen, (Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women, a Wall Street Journal Top Ten Standout Book), featuring actors Daniel Gerroll and Jane Alexander, and with commentary by Pulitzer Prize-winners Geraldine Brooks and John Matteson, this first film biography of Louisa May Alcott replaces the image of a New England spinster with a portrait of a living, breathing, modern woman.
An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving (2008): Set in post-Civil War New Hampshire and based on Louisa May Alcott’s short story of the same name, An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving is a coming-of-age narrative about the power of healing, the definition of wealth and the nature of charity. At the story’s center is the Bassett family, recovering from the recent and premature death of Ellis Bassett, a beloved husband and father. Without Mr. Bassett, the family farm has deteriorated, and Mary Bassett (played by Hélène Joy) struggles to make rent and provide necessities for her children and a neighboring family.
With growing concern, free-spirited Tilly (Tatiana Maslany), our narrator and the eldest of the Bassett children, uses her literary inclinations and writes a letter to her wealthy, but estranged, grandmother, Isabella Caldwell (Jacqueline Bisset). In the letter, she poses as her mother, exaggerating the Bassett family’s circumstances and requesting Mrs. Caldwell’s immediate assistance. Unable to ignore the dramatic nature of the letter, Isabella arrives in the small New Hampshire town just before Thanksgiving, much to Mary’s, and Tilly’s, immense surprise.
Isabella’s visit brings with it several deep-seated conflicts between herself and her daughter, and Tilly begins to understand why her mother has never called on Isabella for aid. In addition to an unresolved rift concerning Ellis Bassett, Isabella and Mary have differing opinions on the value of money, the importance of virtue and the proper method of child-rearing. These conflicts surface almost immediately following Isabella and Mary’s strained reunion, and it isn’t until Tilly admits to writing the fabricated letter that Isabella’s stay begins to take on a different tone.
Starring Jacqueline Bisset (Joan of Arc, Dangerous Beauty, Anna Karenina), Helene Joy (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Snowy River: The McGregor Saga), Tatiana Maslany (World Without End, The Nativity), Kristopher Turner, Ted Atherton (Reign, Bomb Girls), Paula Boudreau (Murdoch Mysteries), Vivien Endicott Douglas (Anne of Green Gables: A New Beginning), Gage Munroe (The Lizzie Borden Chronicles), Sam Malkin, Catherine Fitch, Michael Barbuto, Paul Brown, Sarah Cassidy, Sharon McFarlane.