A new made-for-TV movie by Hallmark and a faith-based film company in time for Valentine's Day promotes “tremendous” Catholic values, a priest involved with the production said.
The president of Paulist Productions, Fr. Eric Andrews, praised the film to CNA for having what he called “poignant moments” where “faith and trust in God's promises are put to the test and not found wanting.”
“The Lost Valentine,” airing on CBS this Sunday, Jan. 30 at 9 Eastern time, features actress Jennifer Love Hewitt of Ghost Whisperer fame, as well as veteran performer and recent pop culture phenomenon Betty White.
The story is based on the book by James Michael Pratt and follows Caroline Thomas – played by White – an elderly woman who's Navy pilot husband disappeared after leaving to fight in World War II several decades earlier.
The day he left, a young, pregnant Caroline saw him off at a train station and gave him her parting gift of a homemade valentine. Many years later, she still hasn't seen her missing husband and continues to visit the train station to honor him on the same day every year. Enter Jennifer Love Hewitt's character Susan Allison, a cynical reporter who's been assigned to cover a feature story on Caroline's unwavering love for her husband and devotion to her marital vows. The two develop a deep friendship that leads to startling discoveries.
Although Fr. Andrews said the movie doesn't have as much overt religious content as the book, “there are tremendous Catholic and general faith values in the movie.”
“We learn of the Christ-like, self-sacrificial love of the lost Navy pilot. We witness Betty White character's fidelity to the sacrament of Marriage, through the way she shares her marital love with those around her: family, friends, and in a special way war veterans.”
“The movie makes a strong case for those traditional values of service to God, country, and neighbor that are so needed in our world today,” he added.
Producer for Paulist Productions Barbara Gangi recalled bringing the story to Hallmark Hall of Fame over four years ago.
“Because of the valentine theme and strong, faith-based values, I felt this was the perfect home for this movie,” she said in a Jan. 27 interview. She said that Hallmark “loved it immediately” but that most film projects take a lot of time to put together the legal aspects and casting.
“Once Betty White and Jennifer Love Hewitt came on board, everything moved very quickly,” she said, adding that the film was shot in 25 days in and around Atlanta. Gangi noted that the production quality “is equal to a theatrical film.”
Gangi also remembered how everyone in the cast and crew were deeply “involved emotionally in this movie.”
“It was a labor of love for all of us for many different reasons. It's not often we have the opportunity to tell a meaningful story like this.”
Gangi noted that Betty White was particularly drawn to the enduring love aspect of the film and related this story to the devotion she has to her late husband, Allen Ludden.
“She never remarried and has remained faithful to that powerful love to this day,” Gangi said. “She was reminded of him everyday when we were filming and spoke of him often.”
The film also held significance for Hewitt, who's “middle name is Love,” Gangi said, adding that the actress's mother was on the set in Atlanta and told Gangi that when she was pregnant with Jennifer, her due date was Valentine's Day.
“That's one of the reasons she gave her this name,” Gangi said. “Valentine's Day and love in general have always been strong themes for Jennifer, who calls 'The Lost Valentine' the best love story she ever read.”
Gangi said that what initially attracted her to the narrative was its “strong” Christian values. “This is a tale of enduring love, the sanctity of marriage and the willingness to sacrifice your life for another human being.”
The movie is also an homage to the military, she added.
“We had the full cooperation from the Department of the Navy. In fact, the men in the Naval honor guard who appear in this film are actual officers in the Navy. The veterans who are shown, including one elderly gentleman who served with Patton, are all real vets,” Gangi said.
Fr. Andrews described “The Lost Valentine” as fitting perfectly into Paulist Production's mission “to be leaven in Hollywood.”
Since 1961, he explained, “we have been, as our Founder Paulist Father Ellwood 'Bud' Kieser used to say, 'Serving the Church by serving those outside the Church.'”
“This pre-evangelization calls us to produce content in all media platforms that lifts the human spirit and invites the viewer to know God and follow Him.”
The ultimate goal of the production company, he said, is to encourage “those in the media to tell stories that are inspirational, spiritual, and life-giving” and to “find projects that reach a young adult audience, “many of whom are leaving the Church.”
He praised the upcoming movie as “a great story of a Catholic family whose faith and trust in God's love triumphs over loss and adversity. It's a story that can connect to a general audience, regardless of faith background.”