Rumors have circulated since the late 1990’s that the V.C. Andrews penned Landry series (consisting of Ruby, Pearl in the Mist, All that Glitters, Hidden Jewel, and prequel Tarnished Gold) was in the works at Lifetime. Years passed and finally after the successful Lifetime remake of Flowers in the Attic in 2014, an abundance of V.C. Andrews films have been released to mixed results. From the haunting My Sweet Audrina (2016) to the Casteel series (2019), along with the lonely and forgotten Rain (2006), Lifetime has brought to life beloved characters facing horrific childhoods, wicked stepmothers, and all the rest of the charming elements that make up dark fairytales and the Southern Gothic style of storytelling of the late author. After a few terrific adaptations, and a few less than stellar, at last the latest V.C. Andrews saga to be brought to life (technically written by ghostwriter Andrew Neiderman, author of Pin and The Devil’s Advocate) is 2021’s Landry series, based on the first four novels. Spoilers ahead.
Fans of V.C. Andrews are devoted, passionate, and fierce in their protection of the writer’s vision. Details that are arbitrary in many other books tend to be essential to V.C. Andrews’ fans. For example, the hair color of the protagonist could be overlooked in a different author’s tome; however, to these fans changing the hair color will ruin the entire experience, such as with Heaven Casteel in the Casteel adaptations. For a large part of the storytelling with V.C. Andrews (and, to a lesser extent, the ghostwriter) are descriptions of the characters and settings that are weaved directly into the actual narrative. The stories typically follow a young woman over many years of her life as she overcomes traumatic and mysterious events beyond her control. The filmmakers have a little wiggle room in adapting a work from V.C. Andrews’ catalogue, but there are certain rules that must be followed.
Fans of the Landry collection of novels will find much to enjoy with these 2021 screen updates. Luckily for Lifetime’s latest attempt, the Landry series was written completely by the ghostwriter, and the looks of Neiderman’s V.C. Andrews characters are not as locked into the actual story. Therefore, the Landry saga immediately sidesteps the knee-jerk reaction from devoted audiences that was felt with the Casteel adaptations. Which is ironic that Lifetime chose to make Ruby (Raechelle Banno) a ginger, as “ruby” invokes red, and in the novels, protagonist Ruby’s hair is not stated as red until the fourth novel. Furthermore, each step back cover (an iconic look to V.C. Andrews novels in the 1980’s and 1990’s) alternated the character as having black hair and red hair. (Sorry, hardcore horror fans for all the talk of hair color, but any true V.C. Andrews fan will know and fervently appreciate this exact topic being discussed.)
Another factor in favor for this recent foray is that the overall time frame of the first three novels in the Landry series take place over a few years. Unlike the novels written by the actual Virgina Cleo Andrews, in which a single novel can take place over five to ten years, the later ghostwritten novels often each individually take place over the course of one or two years. This is an element that bodes well for the ghostwritten novels, such as the Cutler series or the Landry series. There does not need to be a ton of recasting of major characters from film to film, and the production does not feel as rushed. Although the Dollanganger adaptations were more enjoyable than not, the Dollanganger, the Casteel, and My Sweet Audrina all suffered from the source material having the protagonist age from as early as nine until either their 40’s, or even early 50’s. Due to the Landry series having the main characters age from their late teens to early 30’s, the audience can follow the same actors from film to film. The repeated recasting from the prior Lifetime adaptations became a jarring element detrimental to the audience’s emotional commitment.
The Landry series begins with Ruby. Ruby Landry is a young woman living in the Bayou of Louisiana with her grandmere Catherine (Naomi Judd). Ruby admires her grandmere, as Catherine is a famous healer. Catherine, meanwhile, has high hopes for Ruby to become a famous artist and leave a life of poverty behind. Unfortunately, Ruby’s life is complicated by the fact that her mother died while giving birth, and Ruby does not know anything about her father. Catherine kicked out Ruby’s alcoholic grandfather immediately following Ruby’s birth, and true to V.C. Andrews, the secrets surrounding these events leads to a disturbing discovery between Ruby and her boyfriend Paul (Sam Duke).
A series of nightmarish circumstances lead Ruby to New Orleans to find her father (Gil Bellows), stepmother (Lauralee Bell), and a twin sister named Gisselle (Karina Banno). Ruby’s Cajun background is considered a source of embarrassment to her Creole family. Although she is well-loved by her father, her stepmother resents that Ruby’s appearance uncovers more long-held secrets. Gisselle, meanwhile, is used to being a spoiled only child and is intent on making Ruby as miserable as possible. The next film Pearl in the Mist picks up right after a tragic accident and finds Ruby and Gisselle in a private school for girls. Ruby misses the newfound love she has with Beau (Ty Wood) but finds solace with her new friends Abby (Sage Linder) and Louis (Richard Harmon).
Ruby and Pearl in the Mist adhere closely to their original source material. Raechelle Banno elevates the book version of Ruby from a sweet girl completely swept up by her circumstances into a strong young woman willing to fight for not only her beliefs, but for her life. Banno and her twin sister Karina Banno are the main reason to watch these adaptations. These real-life sisters dive into their roles and keep these adaptations afloat with their very courageous, different performances. The sisters never quite steal any scenes from each other, and instead work well together to let each one shine. No easy feat, as the sisters they portray are polar opposites ready to push each other out of a wheelchair or ruin the other’s reputation.
Naomi Judd’s role is sadly brief, and she seems a little stiff; however, the actress/singer’s career as a prominent voice of country music in the 1980’s and 1990’s effortlessly generates an aura of down-home wisdom with which to open the first film. Gil Bellows is sweet as the twins’ father, and Lauralee Bell is delightful as the so-called wicked stepmother. Bell demonstrates an understanding of the slightly over-the-top performance needed in a role such as Daphne, but the actress never crosses the line into campy. Standout supporting roles belong to Sage Linder as Abby, a young woman maintaining dignity in the face of racism in the 1960’s, and Richard Harmon as Louis, an unlikely hero with a chilling past.
All That Glitters continues the story of Ruby after she has escaped back to the bayou after finding out she is pregnant with Beau’s baby, Pearl. Paul, meanwhile, offers Ruby a chance at security with a proposal at marriage; however, Ruby is hesitant to accept due to their recently discovered sibling relationship (remember, this is V.C. Andrews). After being attacked one night and realizing that her true love, Beau, is now married to her twin sister, Gisselle, Ruby soon settles into the sad reality of Paul’s unrequited desires. Tragedy soon strikes again giving Ruby the opportunity to switch places with her lookalike twin sister and finally be with Beau. Although Ruby finally has the family of her dreams, the consequences from the switch lead only to more disaster, and Ruby begins to lose her sense of self in the process.
Hidden Jewel concludes the Landry saga through the eyes of Ruby’s daughter, Pearl (Jennifer Laporte). Ruby has always believed in the power of voodoo and spirituality. Pearl, on the other hand, is scientifically minded and strives to become a doctor. Still, Pearl and Ruby confide in each other about everything until a new devastation convinces Ruby that the Landry blood is still cursed. Pearl sets out on a quest to solve the mysteries of her family past and discovers along the way that love is not a scientific matter. As Pearl’s journey takes her deep into the swamps of the bayou, she soon finds out that her mother’s birthplace is far more dangerous that she has been led to believe.
After rewatching the entire series on DVD, Pearl in the Mist (arguably, the weakest of the novels) is definitely the strongest film of the series; however, All that Glitters is my personal favorite. So far, the better of the Lifetime adaptations seem to be the novels taking place over the shortest time frame, and Pearl in the Mist is, therefore, able to avoid feeling rushed in order to just breathe. At the same time, Lifetime was able to take some of the frustrating moments of the novel and improve them considerably. For example, Ruby became a stronger character, there is a sweet montage near the climax showing her growth, and Ruby is allowed to roughly push the nasty Gisselle out of her wheelchair just once! Which is something that we all secretly wished for but never happened in the novels.
Still, All that Glitters is the Landry novel of the series that produces some of the most ridiculous over-the-top scenes that V.C. Andrews fans live to read. A grand fantasy house, a half brother and sister “roleplaying,” a clandestine love affair, twin sisters switching places, and a dramatic court scene where all dark family secrets are revealed. This corresponding adaptation does not back down from all these moments that are a bit cringeworthy in the novel, and instead, the cast dives right into the craziest parts to make it all work. The two leading men, Sam Duke and Ty Wood, have allowed their characters to build through the first two films which is showcased in the third installment. Wood develops the right amount charm in his role as Beau, while Duke cultivates the brooding Paul from a hopeful boy into a man lost within his own fantasy and grief. And it is All that Glitters that finally lets the Banno sisters really unleash the tumultuous nature of Ruby and Gisselle.
Raechelle Banno is, of course, the main overall reason the Landry saga works as an adapted series. She takes us from a naïve girl in the bayou to a grown woman ready to fight the darkest spirits of voodoo. Her best moments are in All that Glitters when she duplicates the character of Gisselle delightfully created by her sister, Karina Banno. While watching the series, I was worried for the most part, as I did not think the two sisters looked alike enough to believably pull off the switch in the third installment. I was gleefully wrong, wrong, wrong. Instead, the two sisters skillfully created such two completely different women that Raechelle was able to dance easily between her role as both Ruby and Ruby as Gisselle.
Although the DVD lacks any special features and only contains the films, these V.C. Andrews Lifetime adaptations are worth the price just to own the entire set. Sprinkled throughout the movies are what now could be termed “V.C. Andrews’ Regular Actors,” such as Jennifer Laporte, previously Leigh from Web of Dreams (2019), playing Pearl in Hidden Jewel or Tess Atkins, formerly Vera in My Sweet Audrina (2016), playing Jeanne in All that Glitters and Hidden Jewel. As long as this article now is, it would be remiss to not mention that Laporte is an actress that has really come through in making the final entries of these Lifetime versions work. For all that went off track with the Casteel series (there was a lot), Laporte was terrific as Leigh (despite the wrong hair color, wink) and really made Web of Dreams the best of the Casteel adaptations. Hidden Jewel would not have worked (still the wrong hair color) without the actress’s measured and refined performance as the maturing Pearl.
Sadly, Tarnished Gold, the fifth installment of the Landry tale has not been yet made into a film. When original reports were being developed about this series, the prequel Tarnished Gold was included. There is an IMDB page with a screenwriter attached, but as of now no further details have emerged regarding the story of Ruby’s mother, Gabrielle. Which is a shame, as the prequels are such a major component of the original V.C. Andrews sets of novels. Garden of Shadows, the story of the grandmother from Flowers in the Attic¸ was also never filmed for Lifetime. Nevertheless, the story of Ruby Landry’s journey from poverty in the mysterious bayou to a wealthy life in New Orleans is now available to watch on DVD. The filmmakers correctly adhered as closely to the source material as possible, and the result is a thrilling, soap operatic ride successfully obtained only by the strength of a devoted cast. 1987’s Flowers in the Attic is still my favorite of V.C. Andrews’ adapted work; however, the Landry series is by far the best of Lifetime’s attempt to bring her work to life.
Wicked Rating: 6/10
Director: Gail Harvey (Ruby); David Bercovici-Artieda (Pearl in the Mist); Michael Robison (All that Glitters, Hidden Jewel)
Written by: Richard Blaney (Ruby, Pearl in the Mist), Gregory Small (Ruby, Pearl in the Mist), Scarlett Lacey (All that Glitters), Andy Cochran (Hidden Jewel), Virginia C Andrews (Based on the Book)
Stars: Raechelle Banno, Karina Banno, Crystal Fox, Gil Bellows, Deborah Cox, Lauralee Bell, Ty Wood, Sam Duke, Sage Linder, Richard Harmon, and Naomi Judd
Release Date: July 27, 2021 (DVD)
Studio/Production Company: Lionsgate; Lifetime; A&E Television Networks; Gemstone Pictures Inc.
Length: 348 minutes
Sub-genre: Drama, Romance