When Calls The Heart
Hallmark Channel, available on Netflix.
Following on from the success of the 1990s TV series Christy and the more recent Love Comes Softly, it seems we can’t get enough of TV adaptions of Christian historical fiction. So naturally, Hallmark repackaged the same story in the new series When Calls the Heart, knowing success was, apparently, imminent.
First screening in 2014, When Calls the Heart is based on Janette Oak’s famous book series of the same name. Spawned from the mediocre movie of the same name starring Arrow’s Stephen Amell, it begged the question: do we even need 12 episodes of this predictable love story, when it was told somewhat poorly the first time?
As a fan of the genre, I can say unequivocally yes. Because the TV series isn’t just better than the original movie, it presents new characters and stories that we missed the first time around. And more than that, it introduces the concept of faith as a lifestyle rather than a set of religious beliefs.
We meet the protagonist Elizabeth Thatcher (the endearing Erin Krakow) as she travels to her first posting as a new teacher. Appointed to teach the rambunctious children in the Canadian mid-west town of Coal Valley, she has lofty ideals and zeal that goes against the male hierarchy of her times.
As stories go, this series is as predictable as its predecessors. Elizabeth quickly learns she is out of depth in the remote town that is still reeling from the death of more than 40 miners months earlier, and must learn to understand and appreciate each of her pupils.
Not without romance, she meets a handsome Canadian Mountie (think police officer who rides off into the sunset every episode) named Jack Thornton (Daniel Lissing) who challenges her stubborn independence and brings out the best in the sheltered teacher.
Throw in a mystery (did someone know the mining disaster was about to happen?), some complex supporting characters (Lori Loughlin plays Elizabeth’s mentor, a widower named Abigail) and the underlying narrative of faith in tragedy, and it’s a satisfying series that you can easily binge watch.
Don’t press play on episode one expecting to be fed pivotal Biblical truths. Like all of Hallmark’s offerings, this is a somewhat shallow take on Christian values. As the voice of reason, Abigail reels of cliché Biblical terms like, “God won’t give us more than we can handle” without any scriptural reference or understanding of why we believe such things. And the majority of characters are marked as “Christian” by their church attendance and prayers, which are, obviously, a talking point in the town.
If you can get past this though, there is a delightful purity to the storyline that is most often portrayed in the thoughts and sacrificial actions of key characters.
Elizabeth frequently grapples with God calling her to such a remote town and the cost of obeying him. Mountie Jack is the pinnacle of justice and humility, displaying a willingness to lay down his life such as the Bible asks of us; and many of the town’s folk wrestle with the idea of turning from their ways (robbery, deceit, cheating, gossiping, bullying, murder) to enter a life of goodness that is available when we know God.
That being said, this is certainly not a Case for Christ scenario, but it’s enough to show us what practical Christianity may have looked like at the turn of the century. The fact the characters are complex enough to give us a taste of modern-day relationship struggles and moral dilemmas also makes this worth watching.
With three series of When Calls the Heart currently on Netflix, fans of historical romance will eat up each 12-episode season. A quality adaption of Janette Oak’s novels, fans of the books won’t get an exact retelling of the story, but will still gravitate to the charm and sincerity of this delightful series.
When Calls the Heart, rated PG, is streaming on Netflix now.