A gentle WWII-era drama set in a small North Carolina town, Showtime’s “Run the Wild Fields” is the type of memory pic that used to pop up on PBS’ now-defunct “American Playhouse” years ago. Rich in period detail, and featuring a strong cast and beautiful lensing, pic falters a bit in the pacing department during its second act, but finishes on a solid note nonetheless.
Story is seen through the eyes of a spunky 11-year-old girl named Opal who recalls the bucolic days spent with her mother on their family farm, while her dad was serving overseas. When a handsome drifter (Sean Patrick Flanery) enters their lives and is hired to help out on the farm, complications arise that leave a lasting impression on the narrator. “I’m thinking he’s mysterious,” says Opal to her friends, and she’s quite right.
Although the stranger is called a coward and a draft dodger by the unsympathetic townsfolk, Opal and her mother let the young man stay on the farm, and eventually, the real truth about his past emerges.
Brit thesp Joanne Whalley, who perfected her Southern drawl in the TV miniseries “Scarlett” a few years back, is quite believable in the role of Ruby Miller, a woman torn by her attraction to the new arrival and her love for her absent husband. She also has a touching rapport with Alexa Vega (“Ladies Man”), the dynamite young actress who carries the film on her little shoulders. Cotter Smith brings a much-needed element of tension to the mix as a jealous neighbor who has carried a flame for Ruby for years,
If the film falters in parts, it’s because of the stiff, sugary voice-over narration by Deborah R. Sullivan. One can’t help think what sort of magic a stronger thesp like Julie Harris or Shirley Knight could have worked with their voices.
Director Paul A. Kaufman’s knack for capturing quiet moments is especially reflected in scenes in which a married couple discover the fate of their son from a telegram deliverer, or the reaction of the town’s residents to the news of President Roosevelt’s death.
Pic’s general tone is helped vastly by Thom Best’s lush photography and Vlasta Svovoda’s excellent production design. After watching the film, you really feel like you’ve visited this farm, lived during the second World War, and known these people — which is exactly what an effective coming-of-age tale is supposed to do.