Cassie Watts wants to see her childhood home before she dies. She plans her escape from her weak-willed son and terrifying daughter-in-law, in whose apartment she now lives, and makes her way there with nothing in her purse except a pension cheque. It is no great distance to Bountiful from Houston, Texas, but for her it is the adventure she has been dreaming of for 20 years.
This is not a challenging drama, nor one which is strong on plot; it belongs to a golden era of homespun, American storytelling where there are few surprises, barely a twist to be seen, and all the complications are simple and easily resolved. There isn’t a memorable line in the play, and it takes an inordinate length of time to tell a story in which very little actually happens. However, what we get a-plenty is elegiac charm and a homage to old-fashioned family values and the wealth of the human spirit.
Written by the late Horton Foote, whose screenplays include the great To Kill a Mockingbird, The Trip to Bountiful was first seen in the 1950s, with Lilian Gish as Cassie Watts. It was filmed in 1985, with an Oscar-winning performance by Geraldine Page. It is unashamedly nostalgic and unfolds with careful explanation of every action and every motivation – there are no mysteries here. It may be achingly slow, but it is tender, heartfelt and quietly engrossing. Following in some illustrious footsteps, we get a glowing performance in the role of Cassie by Alicia Farnworth. She is sprightly, cantankerous, devious, naïve and determined. She is also possessed of an inner radiance that perfectly matches the mood of the play.
Good support comes from Raymond Murray Sage as the son, disappointed in life but determined that neither his mother nor his shrill, brittle wife (Alison McKenna) should notice; Lucy Murphy as a young wife to whom Cassie unburdens her life story; and Morgan Deare as a benevolent sheriff.
The direction by Kenneth Hoyt doesn’t stint on sentimentality. It also adds some clunky memory sequences, with the main part of the set being for ever trundled around in circles, but this pays off in one touching moment when the older Cassie encounters her youthful self across the years.
If your taste is for raw, edgy, high-powered drama, this is not for you. But as a human tale, simply told, it has an enduring and potent appeal.
– Giles Cole