The Lost Flowers Of Alice Hart

The Lost Flowers Of Alice Hart
The Lost Flowers Of Alice Hart
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The name of the new Amazon show, “The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart,” reminds one of V.C. Andrews’s novels about ruined families in gloomy old houses as much as it does anything else. And that’s no lie. The seven-episode Australian mini-series, based on Holly Ringland’s novel and available for streaming Thursday on Prime Video, is a full-out melodrama — a family saga where parents and children, friends and bystanders are buffeted by unnatural storms of feeling caused by lies that multiply beyond necessity or belief.

That it’s also haunting, moving and vividly atmospheric comes as a surprise in an era when melodrama tends to be banal (some kind of soap opera) or scolding (some kind of humorless social critique). “Lost Flowers” is a reminder that melodrama can be as satisfying as any other mode of storytelling when it is done with craft, intelligence and some measure of taste.

The story revolves around Thornfield, a flower farm-as-women’s refuge; the women are called “flowers.” Some — but not all — have escaped abusive men. It is run by forbidding matriarch June (Sigourney Weaver), her Indigenous lover Twig (Leah Purcell) and their adopted daughter Candy (Frankie Adams).

June represents one pole of a narrative in which hiding shameful family secrets is the root cause of tragedy; Alice (Alyla Browne plays her as a child), who knows nothing about her grandmother one generation removed until terrible events throw them together early on, represents the other. They spend most of the series being drawn to each other and torn apart again as Alice works through June’s lies.

For all that its dramatic engine runs on these unmaskings, much of the first half of “Lost Flowers” adheres to young Alice’s point-of-view; director Glendyn Ivin and cinematographer Sam Chiplin give these episodes the seductive texture of a dark fairy tale. Set against the strange beauty of the New South Wales coast, they create an atmosphere that mirrors Alice’s childlike, wavering apprehension of the unjustified violence that regularly crashes into her life.

Alyla Browne plays Alice as a child in “The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart.” (Amazon Studios)

Browne is terrific, even though for several episodes Alice speaks hardly at all, having been rendered mute by trauma. Sadness and rebelliousness and a puckish sense of humor are there in her eyes. (Though she shares scenes with Weaver, it is with Australian star Asher Keddie — who plays a sympathetic but self-righteous local librarian — that one feels an actual competition for attention.) She has the sort of focus that makes you focus; she’s magnetic without drawing attention to herself.

Midway through, the series advances more than a decade; Alycia Debnam-Carey now plays Alice as a young woman. And another magical place: A national park where wildflowers cluster around a volcanic crater provides this season’s enchanted setting.

It is symbolic — away from the farm’s protection, Alice can both find herself and begin to repeat destructive family patterns in relation to men. And the writing, under series showrunner Sarah Lambert, dries out some along with the land; these episodes feel more like something we have seen before, though some earlier enchantment remains in Twig’s long road trip looking for Alice.

Weaver, as expected, carries you through — finally. “Lost Flowers” does not play to her traditional strengths; the taciturn June is hardly a canvas for Weaver’s regal-yet-feral intelligence or her deadly sense of humor. But she can act sheer presence and stubborn charisma circles around most performers’ busy acting, and in the late-going takes over, pulling off some lovely stuff as June slows down and opens up. In series work, Weaver has been sparing and capricious; seven episodes with her is the frosting on the melodrama.

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