If you grew up in the 70s and 80s, your worldview was probably significantly shaped by Michael Landon. Most likely you have a soft spot for a good prairie story, even though it’s been years since Little House was on the air. Thankfully, Michael Landon Jr. is still carrying the torch, and there’s something strangely comforting about his movies. He can be heavy handed (just like his dad), but When Calls The Heart is surprisingly solid. It’s wholesome without being preachy or alienating. Better yet, it takes us back to a world of old-timey white schoolhouses and spunky teachers in prairie dresses.
Based on the book by Janette Oke, When Calls The Heart tells the story of Elizabeth Thatcher (Poppy Drayton), an intelligent but somewhat sheltered young woman ready to embark upon a teaching career. Her family hopes for Elizabeth to be assigned to a prestigious school in the city, but it quickly becomes clear that assignments aren’t based on merit alone. Basically Elizabeth has the choice of responding to the advances of her smarmy advisor, or accepting a position in an “undesirable” location. As a girl with standards, Elizabeth would far rather rough it in the boonies than give this sleazeball what he wants. Naturally, her family is horrified, and she’s met with all sorts of unsettling comments like, “You won’t last a day out of the city!” and, “This just isn’t proper!”
But Elizabeth has a gut feeling that she would do just fine away from the comforts of home and city life. She suspects that deep down she’s not afraid of getting dirty or facing a challenge, and she finds the encouragement she needs in the secret diary of her late Aunt Elizabeth (Maggie Grace). Suddenly a woman she never met is essentially counseling and supporting young Elizabeth through this forgotten journal. The storylines soon parallel one another as the two Elizabeths venture into the wild frontier and begin their teaching jobs a generation apart. The obstacles are many, but both women find their experiences rewarding. They even find themselves falling in love.
All in all, When Calls The Heart is a gentle, heartwarming movie that leads nicely into a television series on the Hallmark Channel. Lori Loughlin makes a special appearance toward the end of the film, and is also featured in the series. Though quaint and old-fashioned, it reminds us all to believe in ourselves and to take a chance on the things that are important to us. Regardless of the naysayers around us, there’s always a kindred spirit out there who will help to light the way.