More Secrets and Lies
You can sum "Vinegar Hill" up as a family with secrets movie, the sort where you know things aren't as they seem, that something in the family's history has been buried but has left them all strained. As such whilst "Vinegar Hill" is an adaptation of A. Manette Ansay's novel it does have an element of familiarity about it, you know the first two thirds will all be about things not being right, things then come ahead and then the secrets come out during the final third. Now "Vinegar Hill" is not a bad stab at this sort of movie and it certainly has a good cast for a TV movie, but it has one serious flaw, it tries to pack too much in to a 90 minute movie with marital problems, family secrets, affairs and old relationships all vying for attention and never getting the full attention needed.
Ellen (Mary-Louise Parker - Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe) and Jake (Tim Guinee) both grew up in the town of Grumbach and whilst they left for the big city, got married and had a family find themselves returning to live with Jake's family when he loses his job. But Jakes mum Mary Margaret (Betty Buckley)t is still struggling to cope with the death of her other son Mitch, keeping a room as a shrine and Jakes father Fritz (Tom Skerritt - Tears of the Sun) just doesn't want them there full stop and makes it clear they are not welcome. It's a struggle for Ellen especially when Jake suddenly gets a job as a travelling salesman and she finds herself drawn to former boyfriend Tom (Colin Ferguson), who is now the Sheriff and has never gotten over her. But as the tension between everyone finally boils over Ellen discovers that there are dark secrets in Grumbach especially on Fritz's land.
For the first few minutes "Vinegar Hill" comes across like some sort of fairytale, we watch as Ellen and Jake basically regale their children with how they met and fell in love before packing up their home in the city to head back to Grumbach where they grew up. Thankfully it then gets into full flow as we soon discover that there are painful memories back in Grumbach from Jake's brother dying in a road accident to his parents not having gotten over it. And what we then get is a series of set ups as the problems show themselves from Jakes mum Mary Margaret being very fragile, not completely with it whilst his father Fritz is a violent bully. There is also Mitch's room which is kept as a shrine and the pile of rocks in the woods where no one is allowed to go.
It is to be honest quite routine in set up as with Ellen & Jake forced to live with his parents whilst he searches for work and she works at the school. The tension back at the farm leads to the issues between Ellen and Jake escalating with him heading off and hitting the bottle whilst she finds former boyfriend Tom still carries a flame for her. All the time the mystery over what has happened in the past to make Mary so fragile and Fritz such a bully continue to simmer. But for a movie which is only just a little over 90 minutes it does become over crowded as we go from family problems to marital problems to affairs with out every really getting in to any of them.
All of this builds and builds till Ellen can't take it any more, can't take Fritz's bullying, can't take Jake being pushed around by his dad and leaves. But she also in leaving unearths the truth which I am not going to tell you what the dark secrets are which have haunted the family. But I will say there is more than one and whilst one is expected and signposted others are not and sadly a huge flaw of "Vinegar Hill" is that it conjures up secrets which are not alluded to at all. They are good secrets which most certainly would have had devastating effects but because they seem to be plucked out of the air at the last they feel wrong.
In many ways the saving grace to "Vinegar Hill" is that the performances from all are very good. I say the performances because Mary-Louise Parker, Tim Guinee, Tom Skerritt and Betty Buckley all deliver characters with various layers, they maybe cliche characters but because it feels like the actors were trying it helps. It also means that whilst characters are inconsistent, especially in the case of Ellen when she finally snaps and starts digging around, you sort of go with it because the actors pull it off.
What this all boils down to is that whilst "Vinegar Hill" has various issues it has no more than many thrillers made for TV have. And alongside a good cast it does draw you in to discover what the secrets are which cause so much heartbreak and hurt.