V.C. Andrews is an absolutely iconic figure in literature whether one loves her or hates her. As such, her body of work pretty much speaks for itself. Ask any given person about their knowledge of Andrews, and I have no doubt in my mind that the majority would name Flowers in the Attic as her most well-known work. I have to say that I have never been happier to open up the gates of Foxworth Hall once more to revisit this world. Adapting Andrews’ prequel novel to her Dollanganger series, Garden of Shadows ghostwritten by Andrew Neiderman, Lifetime’s new miniseries is trashy, shocking, propulsive, and just plain fun. The network previously has adapted many Andrews stories, including the entire Dollanganger saga, and with Flowers in the Attic: The Origin, it welcomes viewers back to the insanity and depravity of the Foxworth family.
A gothic, moody opening credits sequence sets the stage for everything to follow. Over four feature-length episodes, viewers are plunged into a dastardly universe of rape, poison, murder, incest, faux-pregnancies, backstabbing, and drama, drama, drama. Cutthroat grandmother, Olivia Foxworth, is reciting her last will and testament in a revealing narration that will take us all the way back to the very beginning—thus the name Flowers in the Attic: The Origin. Way before she became a vicious and fiercely religious woman that locked away her grandchildren in an attic, she was just Olivia Winfield (Jemima Rooper). Unconventional for the time, Olivia works with her father (Harry Hamlin) and is committed to maintaining her independence. Enter: Malcolm Foxworth (Max Irons), the sole heir to a mining fortune who offers a literal empire along with his hand in marriage. Against her better judgment, Olivia falls for Malcolm, and before one can say “family history,” Olivia is already in too deep.
Olivia’s father insists that she never forgets who she is. “Let your heart be your compass,” he tells her, but that may be easier said than done with the trials and tribulations Olivia will face. Just like that, she leaves her previous life behind, including her cousin, John Amos (Paul Wesley), and her father’s business. On the way to her new home, Malcolm insists that being mistress of the house will be a full-time supervisory job. Nothing can prepare her for the excessive grandness of Foxworth Hall. From eerie portraits in the attic to halls dead of color and life, Olivia’s new home appears an endless maze of despair and secrets. Mrs. Steiner (Kate Mulgrew) is the head bitch in charge, and tries to immediately assert her authority over Olivia. Nella (T’Shan Williams), a black servant, befriends Olivia and becomes one of her closest and only friends during her lonely new existence.
Olivia makes it her mission to try to change Foxworth Hall, and inject it with some brightness in the face of Malcolm’s sudden coldness after her arrival. Olivia must clash with not only Mrs. Steiner, but Malcolm himself. He does not at all appear to be the man who wooed Olivia, and won her hand in marriage. Malcolm is obsessed with wielding money and power over all things, which even extends to lording control over the gender of babies they end up having together. Even as their family grows in unexpected ways with the arrival of Malcolm’s freewheeling father (Kelsey Grammer) and his new bride, Alicia (Alana Boden), Malcolm’s twisted grip of evil grows ever-tighter over the Foxworth clan. Malcolm’s outer charisma hides an inner darkness capable of infecting anything it touches.
Without spoiling anything from latter episodes, a poison garden that ties into the book’s name, Garden of Shadows, becomes vital to the trajectory of the plot. I also have perhaps never seen this amount of rape depicted in a miniseries before, but it comes as little surprise given the subject matter. Each eventual member of the Foxworth clan comes with their own unique personalities and attributes that are key to the work of V.C. Andrews. Joel Foxworth (Luke Fetherston) is a sensitive, baby-faced piano-playing charmer, with a burgeoning curiosity in adorable mechanic Harry (Jordan Peters). Mal Foxworth (Buck Braithwaite) is desperate to gain access to his trust so he can build a solid life for himself. Corrine Foxworth (Hannah Dodd), Malcolm’s only daughter played by Heather Graham in Lifetime’s previous 2014 adaptation, is naive and sweet, craving independence. Christopher Foxworth (Callum Kerr) is blonde and chiseled, well on his way to becoming a doctor.
Character continues to trump shock value, getting the audience invested even when they already know some of the eventual outcome considering the prequel nature of the miniseries. I loved seeing Olivia tell her story, and the evolution of her character across the four episodes makes sense given her cold-hearted nature when we first meet her as a nasty grandmother. Olivia’s relationships with Corrine and Nella were my two favorites to watch unfold, while my favorite storyline of the children was that of Joel Foxworth. Max Irons does a terrific job of molding Malcolm into a villain that viewers will love to hate. Pearl-clutching moments are aplenty, with Declan O’Dwyer and Robin Sheppard directing the four installments, careful to emphasize the horrors.
Occasionally wonky accents included, Flowers in the Attic: The Origin gave me everything I wanted and more. This is the type of story where only one character gets any true type of happy ending, where electroshock therapy and blackmail reign supreme, as only V.C. Andrews could envision. Having previously read both Flowers in the Attic and Petals on the Wind at the recommendation of my Andrews-obsessed mother, I was well-acquainted with the world of the Dollanganger clan, yet I found myself shocked and on the edge of my seat through all of these episodes. If I had to choose a favorite, it would be the explosive fourth episode—leading right up into the beginning of Flowers in the Attic, this Origin will satisfy even the most casual fans who may need a family tree chart to keep up. Something about Olivia’s point of view in narrating the entire sordid tale hit me hard with the nostalgic vibes. Lifetime has once again crafted a near-indescribable tale of gothic decadence fully representative of peak V.C. Andrews.
Flowers in the Attic: The Origin pulls up the roots of evil when it debuts its premiere episode on Saturday, July 9th.