Saturday, July 6, 2013

Period Drama Challenge Review #5: Stolen Women, Captured Hearts (1997)

Stolen Women, Captured Hearts (1997) is a mixture of drama and western, which is based on a true story.  The real story tells of a woman named Anna Brewster, who was captured by Sioux Indians and later traded to the Cheyenne, with whom she lived for a year.  During that year, she married an Indian Chief, and when the end of that year approached, she was found by General Custer and taken back to her first husband, James Morgan, whom she had married in 1868.  By that time she was pregnant with Ira, the Chief's son.  Ira later grew sick and died at two years of age.  Her marriage with James Morgan was unhappy and ended when she left to live with her brother, Daniel Brewster, after which Mr. Morgan divorced her.  She died in a mental hospital in 1902, and was buried at the side of her son Ira.

This television movie is loosely based on the real Anna Brewster's story, but it alters and changes some details.  It takes the basic concept and turns it into an incredibly meaningful, and therefore beautiful and heartbreaking story.  It isn't completely accurate or exact in retelling what happened; for instance, the scene in which Anna and Sarah White (played by Jean Louisa Kelly) are captured isn't exactly true to what happened.  Sarah White was already captured by the Cheyenne, and was living with them, when Anna was traded to them from the Sioux, who were Anna's original captors.  However, the movie tells the story, nonetheless, and successfully communicates all the emotions, themes, and messages that permeate the movie version of the story.

The movie begins with a band of Lakota Indians attacking a train of wagons traveling to Fort Hays, Kansas, in an act of vengeance after General George Custer has destroyed a Cheyenne village.  The group of Lakota Indians are led by Tokalah, who lets the two women in the last wagon (one of whom is Anna Brewster) go, after seeing the book in her hands, and seeming to recognize her, though she has never seen him before.

Anna Brewster (left) clutches her bible.
The story continues to unravel from there, accompanied by sweeping music and scenery, filled with splashes of warm color and rusty hues to visually match the western style.

One of the really nice things about this movie is the costuming.  For example, I thought Anna's wedding dress, which she wears to marry Mr. Morgan (played by Patrick Bergin), was really pretty and truly Victorian.  Some might think it too flowery and lacey, but I don't care.

Anna Brewster becomes Anna Morgan.
However much I like and admire Anna's strong character and nice personality, I can really relate to Sarah White regarding her stubbornness.  While Anna becomes more and more accustomed to Cheyenne culture, Sarah refuses to become one of the Cheyenne.  One of the things she does as an act of defiance, is refusing to wear Lakota Indian clothes and holding on to her European dress for as long as possible, even when it becomes merely rags.  I don't think she would ever have stopped wearing her old clothes had she not been forced to change them later on in the movie.  The Cheyenne women insist on giving her a new dress, and are concerned that she is going about in rags, which for one thing, are no longer modest.  I understood why she wanted to hold on to her old dress; it was because it was the last thing she had from her world and her people's culture, and the last vestige of her identity that she could physically hold on to.  Sarah explained all of this in dialogue, but I didn't feel that it was necessary.  I think the film should have let the symbolism speak for itself.
Sarah:  "They burned my dress."
Anna:  "You look beautiful." 

I definitely do not share nor can I relate to Sarah White's disrespect and prejudice towards Native Americans, but if I were in a situation where my identity was being threatened, I would hold on to it for as long as possible.  This is where Anna betters Sarah.  Anna is more open-minded than Sarah, and less afraid of change.  She is willing to let go of any prejudices she may have felt beforehand, and is capable of understanding other people, relating to a foreign culture, and feeling empathy for others.  She is wiser in this way.

Anna wears Native American face paint.

Sarah is more close-minded and too easily influenced by her society's state of mind.  She follows the herd, while Anna is more capable of thinking for herself.  However, despite this, I can't help but admire Sarah's strength, determination, and stubbornness.

I feel like some might regard this movie as cheesy or a "chick-flick".  Well, in my opinion, anyone who views this film that way is not looking hard enough.  This is a movie full of meaning.  There is so much to take away from it.  Yes, it's a romance, but a nice one.  And there is a lot more to it than the romance element.

Spoiler Alert!  (If you want to see this movie and haven't watched the ending yet, and don't want to know how it ends, skip to the last paragraph, in which I conclude my thoughts on this movie)  I found the ending of Stolen Women, Captured Hearts to be especially beautiful.  The tragedy is that even though Anna had left Tokalah, whom she had fallen in love with, (she thinks she must do this in order to stop the fighting that Custer is initiating  in order to recapture her), she later found that the Cheyenne village had been destroyed anyway.  Nearly all of Tokalah's people were killed except for he.  Custer is portrayed as both racist and sexist, and as a man who does not know the meaning of honor, or the value of keeping his word.  Custer, the golden boy, attacked the Indian village despite his promise not to.  It is hard to hate him entirely, though.  He looks so much like an eighties rocker to me in this movie.

At the end of the movie Anna finds Tokalah mourning his loss.  He believes she is the vision he has been waiting for.  The second time I watched the ending, I realized that she was wearing the same orange dress, which she had worn in the beginning of the film when he had first seen her in person.  He had seen a vision of a white woman with a book, which was why he had seemed to recognize her the day his band had attacked the wagon-train.  Ever since she had left him, he had prayed that another vision of her would come to him.  The fact that she is wearing the same dress creates a full circle, and leaves a haunting effect.  It also suggests the possibility of the vision Tokalah believes he is seeing.

I liked this movie quite a lot, but it isn't exactly a family film.  It is more suited for girls in their teens and up.  Of course boys may like it too, but I can't help but picture this as a film that would be regarded by some to be "a girl movie".  In my view, it is definitely a good film and one both genders should watch, which I think should be the way with everything.  Nothing should be labeled "just for boys" or "just for girls".  This movie speaks of loss, injustice, differences in opposing cultures, seeing past prejudice, and spirituality (especially in regard to Tokelah's visions), to name several themes.


  1. Intriguing! I love stories about American Indians, captives, cross-cultural romances, and westerns... I think I would really dig this movie! Thanks for sharing!

    1. I thought it was a lovely film and I definitely think you should check it out. :)

  2. I love that movie. My dad used to read a lot of history & he told me that when white women were kidnapped by Indians, some of them actually end up liking their captors better than their own people. He also told me that in some cases even if white women manage to escape from their captors, families are heartless enough to disown them because they are considered to be "ruined" after being with Natives & they couldn't exactly go back to their captors without taking a chance of getting beaten or killed. So in other words captives were pretty much screwed one way or another.