Movie Review: ‘The Great Gilly Hopkins’

Review by Lauryn Angel

When I was a kid, I remember watching the TV movie The Great Gilly Hopkins and loving it. I know I watched it over and over, driving my mother crazy. I don’t remember much of it now, but I vividly remember the dinner-table discussion of William Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality” and Gilly teaching her fellow foster kid William Earnest how to deal with bullies. When I heard that it was being remade, I confess I was skeptical – mostly because I expected such updates might put an iPhone in Gilly’s hands, thus changing the story completely. If Gilly had the ability to call her mother, much of the conflict of the story would be eliminated. Fortunately, the screenplay was written by David Paterson, son Katherine Paterson, who wrote the original novel. Paterson also serves as a producer on the film, as he did for an adaptation of his mother’s more famous story, Bridge to Terabithia. While there are a few changes, this remake of the 1981 after-school movie not only honors the source material, but improves on the original film.

Galadriel “Gilly” Hopkins (Sophie Nelisse) is a tough foster kid with a chip on her shoulder. She’s been in and out of foster homes because of her bad attitude. What Gilly wants more than anything is to be with her mother, Courtney Rutherford Hopkins (Julia Stiles), who writes Gilly from time to time, but otherwise seems to have no interest in Gilly’s life. Gilly’s case worker, Mr. Ellis (Billy Magnussen) places her in the home of Mamie Trotter (Kathy Bates), an experienced foster parent who may have met her match in Gilly. Gilly bristles under Trotter’s tough-love approach to parenting and hatches a plot to get herself out of her situation.

Predictably (and not just because I already know the story), Gilly’s plan goes awry and she ends up learning a lesson about family. Part of that lesson is tough, but mostly, it’s bittersweet. Kathy Bates is fantastic as Trotter – a role originally played by Conchata Ferrell, who was also fantastic. Watching her performance as Thomasin White in the current season of American Horror Story, then seeing her here really underscores what a talented performer Bates is, as the roles really couldn’t be more different. Also fantastic is Octavia Spencer as Gilly’s teacher, Miss Harris, who is just as stubborn as Gilly, if not more so.

My only issue with the film is that Gilly’s transformation feels a little rushed, but the resolution of her story is handled well enough for me to forgive this.

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