Inevitably, when I’m reading a descriptive piece of Christian fiction, I wonder what it would be like translated into film. Especially if the book has a cinematic “flavor” to it, just aching for an adaption on the big screen! Once before I had a great deal of fun putting together a dream cast for an imaginary movie based on the book Hidden Among the Stars. (Click here to read that post.) I thought I’d do that again, this time for a Lori Benton book I read recently called Burning Sky. As I go along, I’ll share my cast picks, musings about the novel, and maybe mention a few Christian films I’ve enjoyed.
Burning Sky is set just after the Revolutionary War in the American frontier. Willa Obenchain (the protagonist of the story) has just returned to her childhood homestead to find it abandoned–parents vanished, without any trace of what might have happened to them. Willa was abducted by Mohawk Indians as a little girl, and has lived most of her life with them. Tragedy pushes her to find her origins and build a new future on her parents’ land. The heartbeat of Willa’s story, to me, revolves around a recurring Bible verse–Isaiah 42:3, “A bruised reed shall He not break”… a promise Willa grasps tightly.
I had difficulty choosing an actress to play Willa’s part, and to be honest, I’m still not completely satisfied. Whoever plays Willa needs to look as if she could not only survive, but thrive living among the Mohawk. Not to mention endure the strain of rigorous farm life. I still haven’t found someone who embodies the physical and emotional strength I envisioned in my mind, but I settled on Blake Lively in the end. Blake is beautiful, no doubt, but something about her features seems slightly– worn, as if she could portray a character who carries so much grief. At the same time, even the set of her chin suggests tenacity.
Next up would be Willa’s two romantic interests. Willa saves the life of Neil MacGregor, who finds himself obliged to her after he is injured traveling through the vicinity of her farm land. He stays on for some time to heal, falls for Willa, and sticks around to help in any way he can. Neil isn’t exactly cut from frontier cloth, but he works hard, loves to read his old family Bible, and of course has a Scottish accent going for him. I don’t watch the show Outlander, but I imagined Neil as something like that show’s Sam Heughan. That said, I chose the Scottish lead of All Creatures Great and Small, Nicholas Ralph, for this part. I think his role as a country vet on All Creatures… translates well to “I paint pictures of plants but I’m also totally comfortable getting muddy or patching up your gunshot wound” Neil.
Guy number two is Willa’s Mohawk guardian angel, “Joseph” Tames-His-Horse. Technically her brother (as part of the same Wolf Clan) back among the Indians, Joseph watches out for Willa, occasionally bringing her fresh meat and protecting her land. Joseph converted to following Christ as a boy after being taught by missionary Samuel Kirkland. (Interesting note, Samuel Kirkland was a real Presbyterian minister who lived for many years with the Iroquois tribes. He founded a seminary that admitted Indian boys, and was instrumental in convincing two of the Mohawk tribes to fight with the American revolutionaries.) Joseph longs for Willa to follow him to Niagara, where an Indian settlement is being formed and the Canadians promise land, ministers, and teachers.
I wish I could have more actors on this list that are currently working in Christian film projects, but the unique roles for this book made that challenging. How many actors can you name that look American Indian and were in a recent God-honoring movie? I thought of one young fellow from a movie called Hope Bridge, as well as the lead from Pureflix’s Samson, but neither their age or features seem to fit.
Willa has plenty of challenges ahead for her if she decides to stay on her parents’ land. Childhood friend Richard Waring, warped by the horrors of war, wants to lay claim to her property and is bent on proving her (mysteriously absent) parents were Tories. His aging father, Colonel Elias Waring, is also an imposing–but more sympathetic–figure.
I gave Maddie McCormick a slot as warm, protective Anni Waring for the sole purpose of mentioning another movie she had a bit part in– Unbroken: Path to Redemption. That film was excellent and emotionally moving– it tells the true story of survivor (and all-around amazing) Louis Zamperini, and his incredible road to Christ and healing.
I think I’ll close here, since this post is already so long! There are certainly other roles I could fill from Benton’s novel. Memorable characters, like Francis– a young man with disabilities who is critical to the plot– or orphan siblings Maggie and Matthew. Read the book and let me know what you think of my choices! If you’ve read it already, do you think Kevin Sorbo could play any role that you remember? (Is it really a Christian movie if it doesn’t have either Kevin Sorbo or Kirk Cameron in it??!) Lastly, if you were making this book into a movie, would you change the ending (I didn’t really like it)?
Happy reading (or watching)~