Sunday, July 06, 2008

Lifetime films "In God's Country", "Cradle of Lies" hit the "social issues"

It sometimes seems to me that films that wind up on the Lifetime channel do fit into a “genre”. Not only do they focus on women’s issues and tend to feature female protagonists, they seem constructed to explore some aspects of the law and social custom as they apply to modern women. Saturday (July 5) Lifetime aired “In God’s Country”, (Shaftesbury Films, dir. John L’Ecuyer) a fictional story about a woman in a “fundamentalist” polygamous cult taking herself and children out of harms way, circumstances that roughly parallel what could have happened in Colorado City AZ and Eldorado, TX .

Today Lifetime aired a Canadian drama “Cradle of Lies” (directed by Oley Sassone, from Blueprint Entertainment and Breakthrough Films) about a young woman who comes to learn that her husband must sire a male child in legal marriage to get an inheritance. This theme (called the “dead hand” in Victorian English literature) seems to occur with some frequency in the movies, maybe more often than in real life (at least in the US). In this film, the actual writing of the critical scenes is handled with some skill, as the circumstances in the individual scenes seem unusual. For example, at one point the wife (Shannon Sturges) arrives at a restaurant expecting her husband (Dylan Neal). He does not show up but another man does. The scene is written in such a way as to make the viewer realize that the husband actually wants something to “happen” but we don’t know why for a while. The scene where the trust lawyer tells the husband that he has only a year to sire the child is quite brutal, and creates the sense of urgency usually demanded in commercial screenplays. The story accumulates some plotting the wife, outwitting the husband who winds up in prison as we learn he had eliminated a previous spouse who had not “peformed.” Then, the police learn, that he “shoots blanks.” Finally, in the last scene, we learn visually how she has really outwitted him.

There is an interesting scene early where she is shown working as an assistant principal in an elementary school, hugging students and showing more rapport than some principals would want. The set design of the grade school classroom is quite colorful and accurate.

Toward the end, the movie takes the “moral issue” (the will trust document calls the conditions a “morals clause”) to its own absurdity, as the importance of family lineage and family name collapses into itself in a kind of dramatic caricature, taking the husband into the area of soap opera behavior.

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