Valentine’s Day is a very important day in February. Last February, I reviewed the classic British film Far From the Madding Crowd, about farming and romance in the mid-1850s. It brought very favourable comments from a few readers — all women.
The romantic movie I’ve picked for this year’s Valentine’s Day is a great Canadian movie that is out on DVD. Getting Married in Buffalo Jump is based on a novel by Canadian novelist Susan Haley. It was filmed in Alberta in 1988. I’ve seen it numerous times and it’s a favourite of mine. It’s about romance, relationships, culture differences, humour, farming, wonderful scenery, rodeo, and a downright ornery and interfering mother.
Sophie Ware (played by Canadian actress Wendy Crewson) is a city girl and an only child who discovers herself and the true meaning of love by returning to the Alberta ranch where she was raised. Sophie is disillusioned with her life in Toronto as a pianist. She feels she doesn’t have what it takes to be great pianist.
When Sophie’s father dies of cancer, he leaves her the ranch in his will. Her Scottish mother (played by Marion Gilsenan) is furious with Sophie for deciding to stay on the ranch and trying to make a go of it. She hires a local farmhand, Alex (played by well-known Canadian actor Paul Gross of Due South fame), to work for her.
Alex grew up on a neighbouring ranch with Ukrainian parents. She vaguely remembers Alex from her school days. The two make a great pair of ranch hands. Sophie brings him cold water on hot afternoons and watches his shirtless body glistening with sweat.
Sophie’s mother is furious when Sophie calls off a date with the local school principal and goes out on a date with Alex. “We’re just going out for a coffee, not breeding,” she tells her meddling mother. Gilsenan won a Gemini award for her great acting in this movie.
In the restaurant Alex clumsily proposes a business proposition: Marriage. He says, “You want to farm, and I want to farm and I propose . . .” and then he stumbles around and finally takes the toothpick out of his mouth and proposes marriage. Sophie is taken aback by this suggestion, as she has always thought that people get married for love, not for business purposes. She is so upset she gets in the old truck and goes home, leaving Alex in town.
But Alex is persistent and Sophie realizes she can’t run the farm by herself. She agrees to marry him. When Sophie’s mom gets wind of that she tells Sophie that Alex got an Indian girl pregnant when he was a teenager and he has a son.
Sophie is devastated that Alex never told her. She breaks off the engagement and goes in search of the woman and her 11-year-old son, wanting to know more about their relationship with Alex. Sophie discovers Alex did not walk out on the woman, but that she kicked him out. Alex gets to stay.
But the sly mom has enlisted the help of a young real estate agent, Sophie’s wild-driving city friend, Eleanor, played by Victoria Snow. Eleanor visits the farm and comes roaring down the lane in her sports car. For Sale signs are put up at the farm gate, but now Sophie is determined to marry the handsome Alex.
Behind the relationship, there’s also a story about the clash of culture — the Scottish and the Ukrainian prairie ranchers. Alex parents won’t give him a share of their ranch because of his past sins. Alex’s only chance at ranching is if he can woo the sophisticated Sophie and marry her. Sophie gets thrown off her horse. Alex comes to the rescue. They go skinny dipping in a deep farm pond. They go to a rodeo.
Alex’s parents also give the couple a lot of frustration when they talk marriage. There’s a lot of bargaining. Director Eric Till (who, by the way, turns 89 this year and according to Clint Eastwood, 80 is the new 30) does a very good job of the touchy subjects. The acting is excellent. The romance is certainly interesting and challenging and the viewer is never bored. But it’s done nicely and there’s no hopping in bed or making out.
Do Sophie and Alex beat the odds? Of course they do, and they have an oddball wedding. Rated PG-13.
Happy Valentine’s Day!