When introducing Lifetime’s upcoming original movie “Flowers in the Attic,” the network’s general manager Robert Sharenow described the plot, which is adapted from V.C. Andrews best-selling 1979 novel, as a classic coming of age story — which is an amusingly subdued way to describe a torrid psychological horror tale that was a favorite covert tween read for a generation of women. Cast members Heather Graham, Kiernan Shipka and Mason Dye were joined by screenwriter Kayla Alpert at the TCA press tour to discuss the film, which premieres on January 18th.
The major question was how close the new film adaptation would keep to the book, which includes some wild plot developments — an earlier 1987 movie was deemed unsatisfactory by many fans. Alpert, a fan of the book herself, noted of that first effort “they steered pretty clear of the some of the original material, and it just wasn’t that interesting to me, so I never actually saw the movie.” Dye, who plays Chris Dollanganger, said that the new film “follows the book verbatim — the dialogue follows straight out of the book.”
That isn’t actually entirely the case, Alpert noted, though “we made a conscious decision with Lifetime and the producers to really stick as closely as we could to the original book, and we did not shy away from some of the taboo subjects.” While the book takes place over three years, it’s fairly epic, so it did require them “to pick and choose our moments.” “It’s actually more fun being less explicit,” Alpert said. We had to get a little creative. And I think, just like in the novel, the teasing out of some of the violence and sexuality was more fun to imply it than to show it. It’s really juicy, and it’s really compelling — it’s kind of a writer’s dream. I feel like we really went for it. We really did not pull any punches.”
Alpert said that she “did add quite a few things that we felt like were in the spirit of the book that weren’t in the book, that I think ratcheted up the tension. V.C. Andrews can describe how people are feeling or what they’re going through. We had to dramatize that, and not every scene felt necessarily that dramatic, so I had to create some more plot points, and also I wanted to delve into the psychology. When Ellen [Burstyn] and Heather came on, I really tried to add more to that relationship — the mother daughter stuff. I tried to flesh that out and add more of a backstory so you’d have more colors to those characters and explain why the grandmother, Ellen Burstyn’s character, was so evil and why they had this cruel symbiotic relationship.”
Graham hadn’t been aware of the book before her role, but said “one of my best friends is obsessed with the book, and she was quoting me all my lines.” “It’s just a powerfully disturbing story,” she added. “TV seems to be taking more risks. You know, what used to be the independent films, it’s seems that a lot of those kind of really creative project are coming to TV.”
Asked about her roles in grown-up material like this and “Mad Men,” Shipka said “I like dramatic material — I think that playing more complicated is much more fun.” Lifetime seem to think so too — they’re already developing a sequel, also written by Alpert, based on the second novel in Andrews’ series, “Petals on the Wind.”