PROMISE TO CAROLYN
US, 1996, 95 minutes, Colour.
Delta Burke, Swoozie Kurtz, Shirley Knight, Bill Mc Kinney
Directed by Jerry London
Promise to Carolyn is an American telemovie. It reflects the consciousness of the '90s in a greater understanding of child abuse and a realisation of how frequently this occurred in the past. It reminds us that the general public did not think of it as an offence that should be reported to the police.
However, this is a film about two sisters in their forties who are constantly tormented by memories of the death of their sister. Their stepmother was responsible and had treated them brutally. However, the case had not come to court.
Delta Burke is the sister who has not married, who runs a kindergarten. She goes to visit her stepmother but often gets thrown out. Swoozie Kurtz is her married sister, older, who bears anger against the stepmother and wants to do something. The film shows the two sisters trying to remember, going to the legal authorities, the checking of evidence, the pursuance of the case.
Shirley Knight appears as the older stepmother, taken to court. The film is a salutary reminder of the reality of child abuse, especially physical violence. The film reflects, very much, the growing awareness of the '90s.
1.A telemovie with contemporary social comment? Impact on home audiences?
2.The American settings, the South, ordinary people? Audiences identifying with the characters, the situations, the emotions, the court case?
3.The question of abuse of children? The consciousness of the '90s? The court cases? The reality of the past, the violence within households, the cover-ups? This kind of abuse not being seen as criminal or being necessary to report?
4.The focus of the film on Debra? Her returning to her family, her relationship with Kay and the tensions? The bus ride, Christmas? The clash with the gifts? Her going to stay with her father and with Jolene? The potential for clash? Kay and her wanting information about Carolyn?
5.The contrast with Kay, tough, married, the bitterness of the past and the experience with Jolene? The clashes with Debra? The advice of her husband?
6.The structure of the film - the insertion of the flashbacks? The visual style, the drained colour to suggest 1955? The accumulation of the flashbacks and the story of the children, their being abandoned by their mother, going to live with their aunt and her kindness to them, Jolene and their father, the build-up of the violence, the ineffectual interventions of their father? The pain for the little girls, the hard work, the demands of Jolene, her anger and temper? The death of Carolyn? The burial, their sadness, memories of the dress and its colour? The portrayal of violence abuse of children?
7.The growing consciousness, especially of Debra, of what had happened? Going to the cemetery? Trying to find out from Jolene, from their father? The decision to go to the lawyer, opening up the case, Debra and her hesitations, her being very upset and not wanting to go on?
8.The nature of the investigations, looking at the records, interviewing the doctor, the nurse and her phoning? The exhumation of the body, it being intact, the forensic tests? Forensic tests on the dress - and the vindication of Debra's and Kay's memories?
9.Jolene, her relationship with her husband? In her old age? At home, quieter, her interactions with Debra? The memories of the past, her dominance, marrying her husband, the demands on the children, the physical violence, the verbal and physical abuse? The death of Carolyn and her covering it up?
10.Their father, his relationship with his wife, her abandoning him? His lack of intervention with the children? His marrying Jolene? Not intervening? His relationship with Debra and Kay later? The impact of the trial? The stepbrother, his relationship with Debra, his anger with her when the trial happened?
11.The trial, the testimony, the importance of Debra undergoing hypnosis and the violence of the memories? Her reverting to being a child? The testimony in the case concerning this?
12.The verdict, the impact on Jolene, her maintaining her innocence, her behaviour in the witness box? The information about the sentence and the suspended sentence?
13.The importance of people dealing with their past? Child abuse, the emotional abuse? The healing of memories? The significance of courts and trials, penalties? The future for Debra and Kay?