Lead Director – Joseph Henson, Directors – Joshua Arcadi, Ryan Del Nero, Andrew Fisher, Travis Gray, Miles Ornelas & Dakota Sixkiller, Screenplay – Joseph Henson & Anthony Rhine, Based on the Play by Arthur Wing Pinero, Producers – Jesse Dinkel, Allen Evenson, Bruce J. Ford, Joseph Henson, Beverly Stephenson, Lead Cinematographer – Douglas Mazell, Photography – Ramses Pacheco, Brant Page & Dakota Sixkiller, Music – Adrian Henson, Makeup Effects – Mystikk, Production Design – Christopher Butler. Production Company – The Art Institute of California – Inland Empire/Theatrical Arts International Foundation.
Sarah Navratil (Laura Pennington), Paul D. Masterson (Oliver Bradshaw), Richard Hatch (Mr Bradshaw), John McCool Bowers (Maury Hillgrove), Tarika Brandt (Abigail Minnett), Sandra Rice (Susan Layton), Sam Nisbett (Tom Minnett)
Oliver Bradshaw and his fiancé Susan Layton visit a cottage that is rented out by Abigail Minnett. Abigail tells the story of how many couples have found true love after spending their honeymoons at the cottage. Susan feels unsure about having the cottage as a honeymoon destination. Shortly after, 9/11 occurs and Oliver rushes off to enlist and fight in Afghanistan only to return wounded with a facially disfiguring scar. He goes to the cottage to convalesce and neighbouring nurse Laura Pennington comes to tend him. Laura considers herself plain and unattractive. Oliver feels shunned because of his disfigurement and breaks things off with Susan. As Oliver makes a recovery, he and Laura begin to discover feelings for one another. Oliver then proposes to Laura and she accepts despite the disapproval of Oliver’s father. In love, the two suddenly find that the cottage make them seem perfect and unblemished in each other’s eyes.
The Enchanted Cottage (1921) was a play by Arthur Wing Pinero, a popular British playwright between the 1870s and 1930s – he even received a knighthood for his work.. The play enjoyed some success internationally and even played on Broadway. Its theme of a magical cottage where newlyweds find their destiny and can see past each other’s imperfections with the eyes of love connected with audiences of the day. It clearly held a resonance in the post-World War I era where there would have been many soldiers returning to civilian life with battle wounds.
The play was previously filmed as the silent The Enchanted Cottage (1924) and this followed by a sound remake from RKO with The Enchanted Cottage (1945) starring Robert Young and Dorothy McGuire. This is a new film version of the play put on by Theatrical Arts International Foundation, a non-profit organisation based in San Bernardino, headed by Joseph Henson, who is listed as the film’s ‘lead director’. For reasons unknown, the film boasts six actual directors.
The updated version offers some changes. The play is set in England but all the film versions transplant it to the US. The names of the characters remain the same but Oliver has gone from a veteran of WWI (or WWII in the 1945 film) to a veteran of the 2001 Afghan War. There are some grating modern references to The Six Million Dollar Man (1973-8) and Driving Miss Daisy (1989) otherwise the film follows all the beats of the original with a great deal of faithfulness. The only noticeable difference is the addition of Richard Hatch, the film’s only recognisable face, as Oliver’s father.
This new version feels like it should be a Lifetime tv movie, even if the budget is much lower than the usual Lifetime film. Clearly, the production has gotten use of a house to shoot in (an upgrade from the original’s cottage). It feels as though the actors have been recruited from local theatre. They give earnest if never wholly convincing performances.
Part of the problem of the film is that it waters down the before effect of the couple – Oliver’s disfigurement is no more than a scar that runs up the side of his face, not the half-face burn he had in the 1945 film. Sarah Navratil seems convincingly frumpy and ordinary but it feels more a triumph of the costume designer outfitting her in dowdy clothing from the local thrift store. (Not to mention the whole theme this plays on of the ordinary-looking woman who suddenly finds her self-worth and a relationship by being able to realise that she is beautiful on the inside is a datedly sexist one).
Crucially the film’s failing is that when it comes to depicting the Romance the story is dependent on, it remains prosaic and earthbound. The lighting and camera set-ups are all ordinary, as though the six directors were shooting a tv episode. What seems lacking in all of this is any conjuring of a romantic flight of fantasy. Things play out like an average period drama when you feel like the film should have taken a full flight of wistful, fantastical romance.