Comparing the Film and Novel Versions of Sam Hanna Bell’s December Bride
If the movie based on Sam Hanna Bell’s novel December Bride is considered to be good, it is only because the novel itself is nothing short of great. Having viewed the movie on two separate occasions, some four months apart, this writer found herself to still be somewhat bewildered by a few of the events portrayed. The novel clears the Irish fog swirling around those events creating a much more solidly constructed story. In addition, the characters of Sarah and Frank are developed to a much deeper level. The great leap in years that occurs at the end of the movie is shortened in the novel and in consequence, the story flows more smoothly. Perhaps December Bride would have faired better as a TV mini-series with hours and hours at its disposal rather than being confined to the short span of time allotted the movie.
Within the confines of the movie, before the reading of the novel, this writer found the following several elements of the story confusing: who is Fergus and how does he fit in; Sarah’s standing on the hill looking toward her mother’s house seems unfinished; why does the Reverend Sorleyson treat his wife, Victoria, with such distain; what is the significance of the meal in which Hamilton orders Sarah to cook the fish for the Catholic woman; why does Frank voice no objections at the marriage of Sarah and Hamilton? Read on and ye shall uncover the answers.
The novel opens in Chapter One revealing the end of the story. Two elderly persons, Sarah and Hamilton, are being married by the young Reverend Isaac Sorleyson in a church that is nestled in a graveyard. People from the surrounding countryside are huddled among the gravestones braced against the cold winter wind. The cemetery is setting is perfect because it symbolizes the death of Sarah’s independence and ideals. After the young witness, revealed later to be Sarah’s son Andrew, drops the ring in Hamilton’s hand, the bridegroom tries to no avail to position it on his bride’s hand. The old gnarled finger refuses to allow its movement over the second knuckle as though Sarah body continues to maintain her independence. Though the Reverend seems to have succeeded where his father had failed years ago, he did still feel failure because of the means. The young man’s ultimate success was based on a child’s need; Sarah’s daughter Martha wished to marry and needed her father’s name. His success was based on guilt and a form of bribery.
Several characters are introduced as Chapter Two opens and time returns to the beginning in as much as the marriage was the end. Sarah is the daughter of Martha Gomartin, housekeeper of the Echlin family home, Rathard, located on the water about twenty miles from Belfast. Sarah is in her late teens, strong-willed and often an embarrassment to her mother by assuming equality with the men of household. She refuses to stay within the boundaries of hired help...