The Awakening Land

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The Awakening Land
DVD cover of the movie The Awakening Land.jpg
Genre Drama
Directed by Boris Sagal
Produced by Harry Bernsen
Robert E. Relyea
Written by Conrad Richter (Novels)
James Lee Barrett
Liam O'Brien
Starring Elizabeth Montgomery
Hal Holbrook
Jane Seymour
Music by Fred Karlin
Editing by Bernard J. Small
Country United States
Language English
Original channel NBC
Original run February 19, 1978  – February 21, 1978
Running time 420 mins.
No. of episodes 3

For the trilogy of novels of the same name by Conrad Richter on which this miniseries was based, see The Awakening Land trilogy.

The Awakening Land is a 1978 television miniseries based on Conrad Richter's trilogy of novels: The Trees; The Fields; and The Town, published from 1940 to 1950. The series originally aired on NBC in three installments from February 19 to February 21, 1978; directed by Boris Sagal, it starred Elizabeth Montgomery and Hal Holbrook.


The storyline follows the struggle of Sayward Luckett (Montgomery) after she travels to the unsettled Ohio Valley frontier from post-revolutionary Pennsylvania. She and her family carve out a homestead in the forest, and a community with other settlers. The series follows Sayward from a young single woman, left with three sisters to raise after their mother dies and their father abandons the family, to a married woman who has her own family of seven. Her faithful devotion to her family is recounted against the day-to-day struggle for survival.

Main cast[edit]

Production notes[edit]


The series was shot in historic New Salem, Illinois. Interiors were filmed in a set constructed in a gymnasium in Springfield, the state capital. The gym was also used to house the prop and wardrobe departments. Filming took 2-½ months. As an incentive for the production company to choose the area, the Springfield, Illinois city council agreed to fill a nearby lake so it would resemble the Ohio River. The city arranged for animals from the Elgin Zoo to be transported to the set.

Coaching of cast[edit]

The production was faithful to Richter's use of language characteristic of the Ohio Valley in those years. Actress/choreographer Marge Champion instructed the actors in both speech and body language of the region to add to the authenticity of the historical drama.[1]


Award nominations[edit]

Year Award Result Category Recipient
1978 Emmy Award Nominated Outstanding Single Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Comedy or Drama Series Jeanette Nolan
For part one
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series Elizabeth Montgomery
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series Hal Holbrook
Outstanding Individual Achievement in Any Area of Creative Technical Crafts Sugar Blymyer
For part three
Outstanding Cinematography in Entertainment Programming for a Series Michel Hugo
Outstanding Achievement in Music Composition for a Series (Dramatic Underscore) Fred Karlin

Differences between books and TV adaptation[edit]

  • As usually occurs in adaptations to accommodate a different medium, changes were made in characters and plot. Several characters who appear in the books were dropped from the TV miniseries because of the constraints of time and budget. The Luckett family is reduced to four daughters; Wyitt, Sayward’s brother, is omitted.
  • In the miniseries, the father Worth Luckett returns after the search for the youngest daughter Sulie, and does not leave until both daughters Sayward and Genny are married. In the book, Worth abandons the family right after Sulie disappears. In both versions, Worth eventually returns to visit years later.
  • In the book, Worth before his death tells his surviving daughters that he found their sister Sulie living with a Lenape (Delaware Indian) man; she was fully assimilated to the tribe. In the miniseries, Sulie conveniently disappears altogether; Worth survives to see Sayward and her family move into their new town mansion.
  • In the miniseries, Sayward’s husband Portius Wheeler says that he left Massachusetts and cut ties with his family because he was ashamed that his father had gained his wealth through secretly dealing in African slaves. In the book trilogy, Portius never reveals his past, and Sayward does not ask him about it.
  • In the miniseries, Sayward cuts off conjugal relations with Portius because she is supposedly having obstetrical problems. She refuses his offer to go to a doctor. In the book, Sayward simply tells Portius she does not want any more children - ending sex is the only reliable form of birth control available to them.
  • In the miniseries, Portius offers to send his mistress Miss Bartram to another town when their affair results in her becoming pregnant, a scandal in those times. She refuses and asks him to leave Sayward and marry her. None of this occurs in the book.
  • In the miniseries, Sayward discovers her husband’s affair when she accidentally sees the couple kissing. In the book, she learns about it through town gossip.
  • In the miniseries, Sayward sends Portius away on a long business trip after her discovery of his affair. She sleeps apart from him even after his return. She returns to his bed only after he almost dies from a fever. In the book, the couple never separate, and Sayward returns sooner to sleeping with Portius. She feels partially responsible for his affair as she had denied him sex.
  • In the book, the plot line related to Chancey and his half-sister Rosa Tench concludes when they are young adults. Rosa commits suicide when she realizes Chancey will never run away to be with her. In the miniseries, Chancey and Rosa are still children when she dies by drowning in the river. Chancey had told her they were forbidden to play together anymore; it is not clear whether her death was deliberate or accidental.
  • In the miniseries, Portius tries to make amends for his treatment of Rosa by writing an apology to her family and having her buried in his family burial ground instead of a pauper’s grave. None of this occurs in the book.
  • The book trilogy follows Sayward’s life until her death. The miniseries ends her story earlier, concluding with her family’s move into their town mansion.


External links[edit]