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Movie Review – Cross Creek

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings is best known for her fiction piece The Yearling published in 1939 which won for her the Pulitzer Prize. The movie Cross Creek is based on her book of the same name which was published in 1942 and is somewhat autobiographical.

In the film, Marjorie (portrayed by Mary Steenburgen) left her husband Charles Rawlings who disapproved of her writing efforts and her desire to live on an orange grove they had purchased in Cross Creek, Florida where she would have the peace and quiet to devote to her chosen career.

Initially, Marjorie concentrated on writing gothic novels but her publisher Max Perkins felt that she was out of her element and copied the style of other gothic novel writers. At the same time, he was impressed with her letters to him telling of her life and her neighbors in Cross Creek. He persuaded her to write about those events with which she was more familiar.

Her neighbors, Marsh Turner (Rip Torn) and his family were curious and friendly and reached out to help Marjorie get settled in her new surroundings. Norton Baskin (Peter Coyote), owner of the hotel in town, wanted to befriend Marjorie but she rejected his overtures in the beginning. He fixed her car after which she warmed up to him somewhat. The house she bought was run down and needed many repairs. The orange grove had been neglected and did not produce the fruit which she had expected to provide her with an income.

Geechee, a maid played by Alfre Woodard, offered her services for very little money although Marjorie found it hard to write with others around. Subsequently, Marjorie was instrumental in getting Geechee’s boyfriend out of jail by providing him with employment. He avoided work and Geechee confessed that he had always been abusive to her. He wanted Geechee to leave Cross Creek with him; she decided that she preferred to stay with Marjorie.

Her novel The Yearling, about a young deer, was based on an actual animal which Marsh Turner’s daughter Ellie tried to raise on their property against the wishes of her parents.

Marjorie did marry Norton Baskin the year before Cross Creek was published even though, in the film, she kept rejecting him, stating that she wasn’t in love with him. Norton outlived her by 44 years.

Although I was impressed with the movie, I was disenchanted with the performance of Mary Steenburgen as Marjorie. She seemed to be very stiff, not familiar with her character, not comfortable in her skin, and very unsure of herself. The rest of the cast performed very well, covering up somewhat for Steenburgen’s inadequacies.

Cross Creek probably appeals mostly to those of us who love to write. The travails of a writer are unique to the profession and it is somewhat consoling to learn the obstacles which other writers must surmount.

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