Wonderworks: A Girl of the Limberlost

Gene Stratton-Porter’s children’s book about a poor teenage farm girl has been turned into a solemn, rather depressing little production. It’s 1908, and 15-year-old Elnora Comstock (Heather Fairfield) yearns to go to high school. Her widowed mother (Annette O’Toole) would prefer to keep her at home to work on the farm, but finally relents. At school, Elnora is teased for her threadbare clothes and naive ways (the show makes it seem as if everyone in this small Southern town is rich except Elnora, who’s treated like a hateful freak). But the girl also learns she has great talent as both a violinist and a butterfly collector — Joanna Cassidy (Buffalo Bill) pops up as a proto-feminist naturalist who teaches Elnora how to capture and mount rare insects. In the book, these disparate details are worked out with care; in A Girl of the Limberlost they are compressed into a TV movie that must drop minor characters and various subplots and they seem arbitrary and false. Young viewers might like the movie for its masochistic streak — you get to imagine what it would be like to have a dour, bitter mother who comes right out and says she wishes she’d never had you. By the end of the movie, of course, love has been restored to the relationship. Fairfield has too many scenes that require her to be dewy-eyed and grateful, but O’Toole is, as usual, awfully good; here, she’s convincing as an overworked, despairing woman. C

Wonderworks: A Girl of the Limberlost
  • TV Show