An air of secrecy pervades The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, Prime Video's adaptation of Holly Ringland's bestselling novel. The show's inciting incident purposely plays out off screen: One minute, nine-year-old Alice Hart (Alyla Browne) accidentally starts a fire in her family's barn; the next, her home is engulfed in flames, resulting in the deaths of her pregnant mother Agnes (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) and abusive father Clem (Charlie Vickers). The intervening moments remain a mystery to the audience and characters alike — as local librarian Sally (Asher Keddie) asks as she stares at the bloodied and bruised Alice, "What the hell happened out there?"
Sally's dramatics and the premiere's reliance on fiery imagery suggest that the limited series is setting up a puzzle that will be solved in its final minutes, which has become the norm among prestige dramas. To a certain extent, this is accurate, as it's not until the finale that the truth about the fire emerges, but by then, the question of what happened on the Hart property has long stopped being the show's primary concern. Showrunner Sarah Lambert and director Glendyn Ivin instead prefer to focus on the emotional fallout for the women affected by the tragedy: the orphaned Alice, who's so traumatized by her experience that she's unable to speak for months, her grandmother June (Sigourney Weaver), the formidable owner of a flower farm that serves as a refuge for abused women, and Sally, a grieving mother who clashes with June when she attempts to adopt Alice.
Each of these women is hiding something, but The Lost Flowers doesn't bother obfuscating or misleading viewers. Revelations are doled out liberally in the first half of the season, rather than hoarded until later episodes. It quickly becomes clear why Sally is so invested in Alice's care, just as Alice uncovers early on that June is withholding the details of Clem's courtship with Agnes and her involvement in it.
Lambert makes the wise decision to linger on Alice's childhood, and the show spends three full episodes with Browne as she begins learning the language of flowers, or floriography, and finds her voice. The young star, who bears a striking resemblance to Nicole Kidman (Browne played Kidman's daughter in Nine Perfect Strangers), hardly says a word in these episodes, but she conveys great emotion with her furrowed brow and mournful expressions, which turn softer as June slowly wins back her trust. While that arc could have unfolded via selective flashbacks, the expanded real estate allows the audience to see Alice and June's relationship develop in real time, bolstering the impact of the betrayal and manipulation to come.
As the drama flashes forward 14 years, with Alycia Debnam-Carey (recently seen in Saint X) taking over for Browne in Episode 4, "River Lily" — each installment takes its name from a flower and its meaning, in this case, "love concealed" — new twists are introduced. Sally becomes further entrenched in the Harts' lives, Alice discovers the full extent of her grandmother's lies, and June's deceptive behavior has a devastating impact on her relationship with her partner Twig (Leah Purcell) and the other women at the farm.
But even when the characters aren't honest with one another, The Lost Flowers lets viewers in on their secrets. Debnam-Carey's adult Alice first appears in medias res as she tears apart June's office before fleeing Thornfield, but her motivations are only concealed for a few minutes. A major development involving a teenager played by Jeremy Blewitt is presented with similar transparency; ironically, Prime Video has asked critics to avoid revealing details about this storyline, but the forthrightness with which it's handled comes as a pleasant surprise considering how many dramas are determined to outsmart their fans. Having this knowledge makes for a more enjoyable viewing experience, as it reduces the need to hunt for clues about the devastating events that connect the characters.
Because the limited series isn't working toward a big reveal, Lambert and Ivin have more room to experiment, and they add touches of surrealism as Alice and June are haunted by the ghosts of their pasts. (Often literally, as Alice imagines having conversations with her late mother, and June feels Clem's presence in the flower fields.) These beautifully lit moments, which highlight the splendor of Australia's native plants, give The Lost Flowers a dreamlike, airy quality that balances out the heaviness of its emphasis on domestic violence and assault. But at the same time, there's an undercurrent of danger in these ethereal scenes, amplifying the sense that our traumas are inescapable and must be confronted head-on.
That theme is further developed as Alice attempts to build a new life out from under her grandmother's influence, and June is forced to take stock of her mistakes. Both Weaver and Debnam-Carey deliver dynamic performances that play up the harsh realities of being a woman, but Weaver is transcendent. In her first major TV role since Netflix's The Defenders, the actor (who serves as an executive producer) teases the vulnerabilities out of Thornfield's maverick leader, who has a warped idea of what it means to "protect" the women in her care, Alice included. Weaver also nails the sporadic moments of comedy that punctuate June's story: Her casual one-liners about Twig being too old to smoke weed or "murdering" a gin and tonic make for an unexpected delight as the limited series approaches its emotional climax.
While June and Alice's story comes to a satisfying close, the supporting characters are underserved by the seven-episode run time. A long-simmering conflict between June and her surrogate daughter Candy Blue (Frankie Adams), who has been at Thornfield since she was a baby, is tied up a bit too neatly, blunting its impact. Purcell also lends Twig depth as she embraces her Indigenous heritage in Episode 6, "Wheels of Fire" ("The colour of my fate"), but the drama would benefit from expanding her role elsewhere.
These issues detract only slightly from what's otherwise an expansive, lush limited series that aims not to bewilder its viewers, but invites them along for the ride. Given the current state of TV mysteries, that implicit trust is perhaps more surprising than any plot twist could ever be.
The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart premieres Friday, August 4 on Prime Video, with new episodes dropping weekly. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.
Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.
TOPICS: The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, Amazon Prime Video, Alycia Debnam-Carey, Alyla Browne, Asher Keddie, Charlie Vickers, Frankie Adams, Glendyn Ivin, Leah Purcell, Sarah Lambert, Tilda Cobham-Hervey