Saturday, February 01, 2014

CWE: "The Cinder Path" (1994)

Summary: Charlie, the son of a wealthy, tyrannical farmer would rather read than follow in his father's footsteps. He tries to be kind to the workers on the farm, but one -- Slater -- sees his kindness as weakness and paternalism. After the farmer's sudden (and not entirely natural) death, Charlie inherits everything, leaving his mother and sister dependent on him. Charlie marries the eldest daughter of a neighboring farmer, even though her sister loves him.

I debated at length with myself about whether or not to include this and the other made for TV movies that I have. I decided to include most of them, leaving out the one that's very, very long. This is the first alphabetically of a bunch of adaptations of Catherine Cookson books that I own. I just have to remember to slot them in at the right time.

The first one that I remember seeing was "The Wingless Bird," which they showed on Masterpiece Theater when I was in grad school. I absolutely loved it and found the book it was based on. I ended up reading a huge number of Cookson's books -- and there are a *ton*. Eventually, I found that adaptations had been made of quite a few, and that the WE channel (does that still exist?) would play them, an hour at a time, every afternoon.

Both the books and the adaptations get a little repetitive after a while, usually involving a poor young woman who overcomes her circumstances through a combination of strength, persistence, and love ... although there really are some clear variations in her stories. This one, for instance, focuses primarily on Charlie MacFell rather than a female character, although Nellie, the sister of Charlie's eventual wife, fits the pattern a bit. She's not poor, but she is generally considered far less than her sister Victoria (a very young Catherine Zeta-Jones) and struggles with alcoholism. She does get Charlie in the end, because this type of book usually does have a happy ending.

Charlie's father is a *very* common type in her books: the domineering father and cheating husband, controlling and violent.

Slater is not entirely the bad guy here, although he's pretty awful to Charlie. He was raised in pretty crappy conditions and made to constantly feel his position at the bottom of the pecking order on the farm. He's the one made to crawl on the cinder path on his bare hands and knees as punishment for borrowing a book. And once he's away from the farm, married to Polly, he's not a bad man. Polly insists that he's a good husband and father, and that she's very happy with him. He seems to be generally respected in the military, although he has a reputation for being very tough. Once Charlie is in front of him again, however, he becomes that angry child again, doing everything he can to hurt a man who Slater sees has having been given everything in life and doing nothing to deserve it.

If anyone's the bad guy here -- aside from Charlie's father -- it's Victoria. She's spoiled and selfish and has no real interest in Charlie as a husband. She marries him because she thinks he's soft and will be easy to control. He'll be easy to cheat on ... and he is. But then again, she very clearly says in the first part that she isn't particularly interested in being married at all. She wants to be independent, and there's no real way that she'll get that without being married to someone who she can dominate, like Charlie. There's really no other option for her but to get married.

And then, of course, World War I happens. And everything goes boom.

Charlie is also kind of awful to his sister. She's always felt like she was expected to work herself to death for the farm and get nothing at all for it. Charlie won't let her fiancee live on the farm if they get married but she doesn't feel like she can leave. She's always taken for granted and, in the end, takes what she feels like she deserves.

Charlie himself is a nice enough character, but he is wishy washy. He rarely stands up to anyone, and he really is more or less handed everything. Charlie marries Victoria more or less because it's expected. He inherits the farm and 2/3 of his father's money. He gets made an officer because his wife is cheating on him; Charlie probably wouldn't have done anything about it, but better to promote him just in case to keep him from making a fuss. And Nellie basically just waits around for him to want her. She has a sort of independent life, but it's mostly drinking too much and being sad that Charlie isn't there and occasionally trying to kill herself.

He is liked, however; that point is made several times. Part of why he succeeds, relatively speaking, is that he's nice to most people most of the time. He doesn't threaten his commanding officer when he finds out he's sleeping with his wife -- he just tells him the truth. The men he commands like him. He does all he can to save his fellow officer's life. And Slater, of course, shows up to cause problems and get shot/blown up, leaving behind his pregnant wife and two kids.

"I've been through so much, nothing could happen to me now." Famous last words.

Ah yes, a piece of shrapnel right next to his heart, which could suddenly move and kill him! Drama! And, of course, it will move, but it won't kill him and they'll all live happily ever after. As they do in this type of story.


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