A Southern belle waiting for her husband to come home falls for a wounded Union soldier in this silly Civil War drama.
Written and directed by Serge Rodnunsky, War Flowers (2012) is a vanity period film staring a surprising cast, including veteran actors Christina Ricci and Tom Berenger. A few charming performances save this otherwise meandering and strange take on American history from being too unbearable to watch, but history buffs will cringe.
Union general McIntire (Tom Berenger) lost two sons at the Battle of Antietam, so when his army invades an unnamed valley in North Carolina in 1863, he tries to send his third son, Louis (Jason Gedrick), back home before the war ends. Eager to get into the fight, Louis disobeys his father but gets wounded and seeks shelter in a farm house.
The house is owned by Sarabeth Ellis (Christina Ricci) and her daughter Melody (Gabrielle Popa), who are waiting for Sarabeth’s husband, John (Bren Foster), to return from the war. Sarabeth believes John has been killed, but Melody has faith. Short on food, they’re harassed by a local derelict, Rufus (Kurt Yaeger).
As the fortunes of war swirl around their farm, Sarabeth must decide whether to embrace her unwelcome Yankee visitor and perhaps move on with her life, or give up and succumb to the horrors of war. Things look bleak when Louis McIntire is captured by his own men, mistaken for a Confederate, and left in the stockade by his father. Will the two reunite and survive?
There aren’t many redeeming qualities in this film, but if I had any praise at all, it would be for Gabrielle Popa’s portrayal of seven-year-old Melody. It’s a shame that actress hasn’t gone on to do more with her career. The back-and-forth between her and Christina Ricci’s character is the highlight of this movie. Their dialog borders on anachronistic, but it has a certain charm that saves the viewer from an otherwise lackluster and cliche-ridden script.
War Flowers‘ two stars, Ricci and Tom Berenger, are not at the height of their abilities. Berenger played Lt. Gen. James Longstreet in my favorite Civil War film Gettysburg (1993), but here both his acting and his physical health seem to have deteriorated. Likewise, Ricci gives it her best effort but there isn’t much to work with. This movie was released after her TV show Pan Am (2011-2012) was cancelled, so maybe she had nothing better to do.
On a side note, North Carolina in 1863 is a weird setting for this film. There were only two battles fought in North Carolina that year: Fort Anderson and Washington. Both were Confederate offensives along the coast in the spring. Did the writer do any research for his movie, or did he just pick a southern state and year at random? If you’re going to make a historical film, details matter. Grounding a story in real events makes it more compelling and authentic.
War Flowers currently has a 4.2 rating on Imdb.com and a 38% audience score on RottenTomatoes, for good reason. Like the more recent Son of a Gun (2019), War Flowers is an amateur effort with a low production value. Despite spending upwards of $5 million, the direction, cinematography, editing, and sound are all embarrassingly poor quality, even for an indie film. Civil War buffs should avoid this amateur effort.