- The Washington Times - Friday, July 11, 2008

“The Stone Angel” is a Canadian classic. The novel by Margaret Laurence is required reading for almost every high-schooler up north.

The film adaptation, finally made almost five decades after the novel was published in 1964, doesn’t feel quite as much the masterpiece that helps define a country. Still, it’s a memorable saga in which the utterly personal choices of one woman’s life shed light on the grand themes of mankind.

Sheila McCarthy) want to put her in a nursing home, partly because of her failing health and partly because they’re financially in trouble and hope to sell their big house. She sneaks out one day and makes her way from the city to the rural town in which she grew up. Sometimes lucid, sometimes not, she huddles in an abandoned cottage while remembering the take-no-prisoners young woman she once was.

The young Wings Hauser). Hagar was her father’s favorite and stood to inherit his fortune, but instead becomes a dissatisfied, poor farmer’s wife whose passionate relationship with her husband turns sour as he turns to drink.

The title of the book and film come from the statue that the Currie patriarch erected to honor his wife’s memory, and it serves to remind us of just how many deaths Hagar encounters before facing her own.

Canadian director Kari Skogland makes a few missteps. The older Hagar suddenly starts narrating in the middle; there’s little voice-over at the beginning or the end. Also, for a novel so concerned with place, a sense of location is strangely absent in the movie, the only clue being Hagar’s father welcoming her home after she finishes college “back east.” Mostly, though, the filmmaker moves seamlessly between the earliest part of the century and today, showing that life’s struggles never do end.

Miss Burstyn is the Oscar winner, and “Juno” star Ellen Page is getting billing beyond her screen time as the girlfriend of one of Hagar’s sons, but it’s newcomer Miss Horne’s performance that gives the movie its soul. Her luminous portrayal of a woman struggling with the conventions of the time, showing us how full of life Hagar once was, is what makes Hagar’s present-day circumstances so heartbreaking.

★★½

TITLE: “The Stone Angel”

RATING: R (some sexuality and brief language)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Kari Skogland, based on the novel by Margaret Laurence

RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes

WEB SITE: www.thestoneangelmovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS