Seldom have I viewed a movie which is both so well-made and features such shining examples of Christian values, not to mention it’s based on a true story. Added to this, is the superb acting, particularly that of Stephen Atherholt as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Rachel Day Hughes as Henry’s wife, Fanny, and Jonathan Blair as Charley, their son. This film really gets you into the spirit of Christmas! It features everything you would want in a movie – drama, humor, a quality story, and inspiration. And Henry and Fanny’s love and romance is warmly portrayed.
The film opens with a haunting quote by Longfellow: “Every heart has its secret sorrows, which the world knows not, and oftentimes we call a man cold, when he is only sad.” Henry will know his share of sadness but as the movie opens, Henry is joyously happy as there is a Christmas Eve service at church and Christmas bells ring. There are a few delicious comedic moments too as Henry’s daughter tells the minister that her father said it isn’t Christmas until he gets past the Reverend! Henry is embarrassed but he really likes the good Reverend, and when he goes to throw a snowball, he accidentally hits him!
At home Henry dances with Fanny and the chemistry between the two is obvious. They discuss the fact the Reverend wishes for Henry to present a Christmas poem. “Christmas is a poem,” says Henry. “It doesn’t need my help.” She reminds him that the minister is a good man who brings good will to men and Henry agrees. “And he knows that within his congregation is a gifted poet,” Fanny tells him. Henry soon makes the comment, “The bells on Christmas day – the hopeful voices of the church, ringing out peace to the earth.”
The prospects of an imminent war between the North and South is discussed between Henry and Fanny, and Fanny tells Henry that their son, Charley, wants to enlist. “He is not of age,” Henry replies, and his concern for his son’s welfare is obvious.
The family sings a beautiful rendition of “O Holy Night,” featuring a piano. Later Henry is honored for being a poet, for penning such great poems as “Paul Revere’s Ride.” It is stated he has shaped national character and holds a legacy as America’s most famous person.
Henry adores Fanny and tells her she is beautiful and is a poem herself, but sadly, tragedy is about to strike the Longfellow home. While Henry is napping, Fanny accidentally brushes up against a lit candle, and immediately her long dress is set aflame. By the time Henry wakes up and gets to her, throwing her to the floor and attempting to put out the fire, it is too late. Fanny dies the next day.
The funeral scene is portrayed with great sorrow. Henry, in bed with bandages and burns on his hands and lower face, is unable to attend. The minister comes in afterwards and says, “Christ be with you, Henry,” and Henry’s grief is palpable. The acting is brilliant in this film. Henry comments to the reverend, “It’s the 18th day of July.” “It is,” agrees the minister. “Eighteen years ago today, she became my bride. She wore orange blossoms in her hair.” Afterward, a wreath of orange blossoms is placed on Fanny’s hair inside the casket.
Henry goes through a period of grieving and when he walks outside and eyes orange blossoms on a tree, he says, “The fragrance opens graves within me.” When his children wish him a Merry Christmas, he comments that it no longer has any meaning for him. But time will work out a healing in his life which will enable him to write one of the most memorable Christmas poems ever.
He still will have to deal with his son enlisting in the war, and a visit to his door from a soldier that informs him his son has been wounded. As Henry says: “This war (Civil War) is not a poem.” But an entry from Fanny’s old journal helps Henry. After she had partaken in communion, she had written it was memorable and that “death is happy.” Obviously, those who hope in Christ have the blessed hope of eternal life.
As Henry hears the bells on Christmas day, he works feverishly to finish a poem and he is passionately inspired. The results? “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” “My poetry lives!” he declares. “God lives!”
Some of the lyrics to the song include these words: I heard the bells on Christmas day, their old familiar carols play, And mild and sweet their songs repeat, Of peace on Earth, good will to men.
And after doubting about peace on Earth, the poet powerfully writes, Then rang the bells more loud and deep, God is not dead, nor doth He sleep (Peace on Earth) (Peace on Earth), The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, With peace on Earth, good will to men.
There are several things to think about for families in viewing this movie, such as death and grief, and how healing comes from the hope we have in Christ. In addition, the cruelty of war is presented but also the promise of eventual and everlasting peace. Faith plays a big part in this film and helps bring restoration to various characters. Rachel Day Hughes sings a powerful rendition of the song during the credits.
We are pleased that this film has procured our Dove seal for Ages 12+. There are moments of Henry doubting God, and there is the reality of war and the shooting of guns, but there is also a powerful testimony to the hope that faith in God brings. Joshua Enck has potently directed this film and it is a memorable viewing experience.
THE DOVE TAKE: This excellently produced movie is one of quality, and the acting, the writing, and direction of this film results in an inspirational and unforgettable viewing experience for families.