Debuted as a television movie in 2004. Not rated.
The movie starts like Meet Samantha, with a confrontation between Samantha and the next-door neighbor boy, Eddie Ryland (complete with "Three times four is twelve!"). Then Eddie's family's new servants arrive, a father with three young daughters, and Nellie, the eldest, is Samantha's age. Samantha is eager to make friends, but Nellie insists she must keep her station. Like in the books, Samantha is able to convince her to meet for short times to play, chat, and teach Nellie to read. Despite their class differences, which Samantha is largely unaware of anyway, they become fast friends. Nellie also has some things to teach Samantha, about some of the harsher truths of life. Samantha doesn't really get that she's "above" the servant class, but she starts seeing that there are invisible barriers between her and Nellie in the forms of opportunities, and she doesn't like them.
Shortly after Nellie begins to grasp reading, Samantha's Uncle Gard returns from his trip to Europe. He has a lady friend, Cornelia. Samantha is concerned; Cornelia seems to take a lot of Uncle Gard's attention. And she's about to take a lot more of it. She and Uncle Gard are engaged. Cornelia asks Samantha to be a bridesmaid. She's initially reluctant, but agrees with Grandmary's approval. But the wedding just proves Samantha's worries. It's going to be when Uncle Gard was supposed to take Samantha to the exposition in St. Louis. Uncle Gard is very contrite, promising to make it up to her, and assures Samantha that no matter what happens with him and Cornelia, Samantha will always be part of his family. Cornelia also tries to endear herself to Samantha, doing things like bringing cake samples for Samantha and the O'Malley sisters for them to judge.
One night, Samantha can't sleep, and overhears Grandmary and Uncle Gard talking about whether Samantha should stay with Gard and Cornelia for a month or two after the wedding. Samantha thinks they're arguing over who gets stuck with her, and goes outside to find Nellie. The girls go to the boathouse, where Samantha keeps mementos of her parents. They fall asleep, and Nellie ends up severely reprimanded for forgetting her place. Grandmary, who hadn't realized that Samantha had turned the boathouse into a sort of shrine, talks with her about her late parents. She helps Samantha see that staying with her uncle and new aunt is a good thing.
The movie then skips ahead to summer and the wedding. Shortly before the ceremony starts, Cornelia's niece accidentally burns Cornelia's veil. Thinking quickly, Samantha rushes to the boathouse and gets her mother's veil for Cornelia to wear. She is family, after all. The wedding goes by beautifully, although Samantha does hear some gossips going on about how "poor Cornelia" has to take in her new niece. A quick chat with her uncle reassures her, at least for the meantime.
Once the honeymoon is over, Samantha joins her aunt and uncle in New York City. (Grandmary goes on a cruise with her gentleman friend Admiral Beemis, who has proposed to her twice every year for the last dozen years.) Samantha misses Nellie terribly, but the girls keep up with letters. She's a little out of place at first, but settles in to her new temporary life. She gets to sit on her aunt's suffragette meetings, and enjoy the fast-paced life of the city. Her school is holding a speech contest about what demonstrates progress in America. Samantha picks factories, and is busy practicing her speech when a letter arrives from Grandmary's housekeeper.
The letter informs Samantha that Nellie's father has died of influenza. Nellie and her sisters are at an orphanage in New York City. Uncle Gard gets the address and promises to visit the O'Malley girls the very next day. But he's not allowed to visit, since he's not looking to adopt and he's not related. Cornelia is able to get the orphanage to bend the rules a bit due to her friend's generous donations to the place. Samantha is able to very briefly see Nellie and her sisters, long enough to confirm what she and Cornelia suspected from the tour: the orphanage is no place for children. Samantha organizes a clothing drive at her school, and delivers them with some Thanksgiving food. While Cornelia again distracts the orphanage director, Samantha is able to talk with Nellie. Nellie's very worried; she might be sent out west on the orphan train soon, and be separated from her sisters forever. After Thanksgiving dinner with her aunt and uncle, Samantha goes back to the orphanage to help the O'Malley sisters escape. She hides them in the attic, but the orphanage director comes around asking questions. She's sure Samantha is behind the escape, and also wants to blame the O'Malley sisters for some missing money, which she actually embezzled (the girls saw her do it as they were escaping).
A short time later, as Christmas approaches (about when Samantha will return to live with Grandmary...what was her plan regarding Nellie and her sisters then?), Bridget falls ill. Samantha has to find Nellie, who's gone to work in a textile factory. Samantha sees first hand how deplorable the conditions are: a boy gets his hand in a machine, and the manager just yells at him that the broken part will come out his pay, and calls out that there's an opening for a job at the boy's machine once he's freed. Samantha finds Nellie and they rush back to Gard and Cornelia's. Bridget's so ill that Samantha is forced to tell her aunt and uncle everything. They agree that the girls will stay until Bridget is better, but Uncle Gard tells Samantha, as gently as he can, that the law is the law and the girls will have to go back. Samantha reveals that she still feels unwanted, so she thought she had to hide the O'Malley sisters: if Gard and Cornelia don't want their own niece, why would they care about three girls they have no relation to? Cornelia clearly cares. She talks with her benefactor friend, who fires the orphanage director. She says coldly that she and the rest of the board of directors never intended to fund a prison, and there have been several hints about "misappropriation of funds."
Samantha's school has its speech competition right after all that. She delivers an amended speech, one about the real conditions of factories, imploring the audience to push for reforms to make factories as wonderful as other parts of American life. Because she delivered a different speech than she submitted, she's disqualified from the competition, but Grandmary says that she, a much harsher judge, has been swayed. On the way home, Gard and Cornelia tell Samantha that Grandmary finally accepted Admiral Beemis's proposal. And...what would Samantha think about making her stay with them permanent? Samantha readily agrees. She also points out that Cornelia will need extra help...maybe three servants? Uncle Gard disagrees. They need three sisters for Samantha. Nellie, Bridget, and Jenny happily agree to be a family. Together, the family of six delivers a Christmas celebration to the orphanage, complete with food, decorations, and gifts.
The movie came out a hundred years after it was set. I wonder if that was on purpose at all, if it could have been released in 2003 or something but they waited.
Nellie's mother has already died in the movie, before it starts. There's a little subplot about Jenny not talking at all after her mother's death, until she enthusiastically says, "Yes, sir!" to Uncle Gard's suggestion about adopting them.
In the movie, Samantha's parents drowned in the river behind Grandmary's house, not in the lake at the summer house. It seems she was a little older when they died too; she has more memories.
I always pictured Samantha and Grandmary living in a neighborhood like the one in Disney's Lady and the Tramp, sort of in suburbia. Here the houses are sprawling estates on a river in the countryside. With the graves of Samantha's parents in the backyard. Right by the river where they drowned.
I hope the actor who plays Eddie Ryland is acting. He's good at being mean. By the way, Eddie is short for Edward.
Grandmary's less reserved than I imagined her. She giggles on several occasions.
Samantha's doll Lydia is something she's had for a long time in the movie, and she gives it to Nellie to keep safe when she goes to New York City. Nellie's able to hold on to it even at the orphanage.
If you have the opportunity to visit the Louvre, I recommend seeing the sculpture Cupid and Psyche. It's my favorite. Such a beautiful image of love.
Samantha wishes on the brightest star EVER. It's about the quarter of the size of a full moon.
Here, Agatha is Cornelia's niece, rather than one of her two younger twin sisters. She has only one sister, not three.
The IMDB page for the movie criticizes the fact that Eddie's money jar has obviously current coins in it (Samantha and Nellie dump it in the church collection plate to get back at him for his meanness). But some coins from the early 1900s and earlier are crazy expensive, and it's a TV movie. Still, the jar could have been more translucent to make the coins less obvious.
The private school uniforms that Samantha and her New York City classmates wear look like 1980s maternity dresses.
I feel weird listening to Samantha talk about how
handmade things will all be replaced with machine made ones, since I'm
knitting while I watch the movie.
I still say one of the best signs of progress is the advances in modern medicine: understanding germ theory, vaccination, and antibiotics.
Mrs. Frouchy's actress does a great job. She looks and acts exactly like in the books, even down to that haughty, disapproving sneer. Makes her comeuppance (which wasn't in the books) so wonderful to watch!
Samantha - AnnaSophia Robb
Grandmary - Mia Farrow
Nellie O'Malley - Kelsey Lewis
Bridget O'Malley - Hannah Endicott-Douglas
Jenny O'Malley - Olivia Ballantyne
Uncle Gard - Jordan Bridges
Aunt Cornelia - Rebecca Mader
Agatha - Shae Norris
Cornelia's sister - Janine Theriault
Cornelia's friends - Melody Johnson, Jeanette Sousa
Admiral Beemis - Bruce Gooch
Emma - Clare Stone
Lillian - Nancy E. L. Ward
Eddie Ryland - Michael Kanev
Mrs. Ryland - Deborah McCabe
Mrs. Vandergeld - Kate Trotter
Police Officer - Adrian Truss
School Principal - Karen Eyo
Miss Stevens - Shary Guthrie
Miss Frouchy - Donna Goodhand
Factory Floor Manager - Bruce McFee
Factory Lady - Jackie Brown
Factory Boy - Keir Gilchrist
Characters not specified: Kenner Ames, Stewart Arnott, Stan Coles, Michele Ferney, Angela Fusco, Alanna Glass, Ashley Green, Michelle Moffat, Mary Pitt (Jessie, Mrs. Hawkins, Gertrude, and Mr. O'Malley are in the movie, but I'm not sure who plays them)