Some dramas chart a character’s recovery from trauma that occurred at some time before the show’s start. The blow has been struck — the suicide and the alcoholism in “The Bear,” say, or the death of a spouse in “Severance.” And so we open as the sun is just beginning its slow, blurry rise from the darkness.
“The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart,” an Australian miniseries starring Sigourney Weaver, is not one of those dramas. The show gives us a potent depiction of the origins of 9-year-old Alice Hart’s pain, with scenes of domestic abuse that make for difficult viewing. I don’t want this review to turn into a long trigger warning, but it’s worth knowing before you embark on this story that, as in Netflix’s “Maid,” it effectively captures the emotional and physical violence that our young heroine manages to survive. There is a narrative move toward healing and awakening, and there are efforts to break the generational cycle; but only after we see the damage done.
That said, the seven-parter, which premieres Friday on Amazon, is a powerful but flawed drama — always compelling and well-acted, especially by Weaver, but at times overly concerned with making its points at the expense of subtlety and character. Ultimately, though, I’m glad I saw it, not least of all because its mysteries — most of them about Alice and her parents — are revealed with a kind of Dickensian artfulness. There are many secrets in play throughout, and their resolutions emerge clearly and satisfyingly right through the final episode. Also, the show is set largely on a spectacular flower farm, and there’s an appealing touch of poetry in the air, particularly as characters use the flowers — via the symbolism each species represents — to send nonverbal messages to one another.
Based on the 2018 novel by Holly Ringland, “The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart” gives us Alice’s early life with her mother, Agnes (Tilda Cobham-Hervey), and her explosive father, Clem (Charlie Vickers), who keeps them sequestered outside a small town and constantly on edge. Every relaxed family moment eventually turns sour and results in bruises that must be hidden, when Clem’s charm and warmth turn to rage on a dime. After a tragic house fire, Alice goes to live with a local librarian, Sally (a moving, complex Asher Keddie), who is eager to get custody of the girl for reasons that become clear later on. But Clem’s estranged mother, the steely flower farmer June (Weaver), shows up and takes Alice home to her farm. Along with her life and work partner, Twig (Leah Purcell), June has turned the farm into a safe haven for survivors of domestic abuse. At night, she prowls the grounds, armed with a shotgun, making sure the borders are secure.
At first, Alice refuses to speak, and so June, accustomed to the ways of PTSD, teaches her to communicate with flowers. Their relationship grows, and Alice takes to life on the farm alongside the older women in recovery. Alyla Browne, who is quietly eloquent as the young Alice, gives way to the wonderful Alycia Debnam-Carey, whose Alice is a sturdy young woman with a few blind spots. When she learns of a betrayal by June, she leaves the farm to strike out on her own as a park ranger — and, without realizing it, to face down the remnants of her early crises. Having been schooled on a retreat for victims of abuse, she knows which kind of men to avoid, but her heart is still injured and driven by its own urges.
Weaver is extraordinary, and not only because her Australian accent blends in effortlessly. June is a protective matriarch, and she has devoted her life to helping others. If she is chilly — and she is, even when she is impassioned — it is from a life in the trenches, fighting the brutality of misshapen male egos. She cares for flowers, and she cares for her charges, some of whom she must watch return to their abusers. Weaver lets us know that, underneath her wariness, June is courageous and caring.
But Weaver doesn’t shy away from giving us the dark sides of June’s intensity and far-sightedness, as she deceives her loved ones and withholds information from those who deserve to hear it. A morally twisted figure, she has a bit of a god complex as she proudly rules her kingdom of flowers and people, and no amount of good intention is going to justify her controlling ways. Weaver is surrounded by strong performances, nicely interconnected story lines, and expanses of natural beauty; nonetheless, the miniseries belongs to her.
THE LOST FLOWERS OF ALICE HART
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Alycia Debnam-Carey, Alyla Browne, Charlie Vickers, Asher Keddie, Leah Purcell, Frankie Adams, Alexander England, Tilda Cobham-Hervey
On: Amazon. Premieres Friday