Hallmark Channel is well-known for its family-friendly movies that offer heartfelt drama, swoon-worthy romance and happy endings. It was the network that aired all of the movies based on Janette Oke's Love Comes Softly series, so it was no surprise when the network opted to take on an original series based upon yet another one of the prolific author's books.
The series begins when wealthy heiress Elizabeth Thatcher (Erin Krakow) leaves the comforts of a high-society life to teach students in a poor coal mining town. The obstacles she encounters begin with Constable Jack Thornton, who has been rerouted to Coal Valley at the request of Elizabeth's father. She wants to be in the small town to make a difference in the lives of the children; he wants to be where the action is.
When Calls the Heart, recently renewed for Season 5, has steadily increased in ratings since debuting in 2014. And its legions of fans, who call themselves "Hearties," have taken over social media, causing the series to trend on Twitter with each new episode during its brief season run.
So what makes this series so special that it has viewers glued to their television screens during first-run airings in this age of DVRs and online streaming?
It would be difficult to imagine When Calls the Heart without the absolutely amazing cast of characters. Erin Krakow, Daniel Lissing, Lori Loughlin, Jack Wagner, Pascale Hutton, Kevan Smith and Mark Humphreys are just a few of the actors who make magic happen on the screen.
Whether it's the undeniable chemistry, the humor, the love, and even the arguments, what this cast brings to the show is irreplaceable, and each new character that is added integrates seamlessly into the plot. Whether a character is lovable or not, they are very much a part of the town.
The series is set in the first decade of the 1900s in a small town in Canada called Hope Valley, which was previously known as Coal Valley — and it doesn't shy away from revealing the hardships of the time period. Coal mine disasters, outlaws, mudslides and unscrupulous characters are just some of the obstacles this town has to face.
The Royal Northwest Mounted Police serve as the law of the land, and Constable Thornton (Daniel Lissing) tries to keep the residents of Hope Valley safe from stagecoach robberies, kidnappings, outlaws hiding from the law and attempted bank heists. It doesn't take him long to find that action he was looking for at the beginning of Season 1.
Of course, there's a mercantile, a church that serves as a one-room schoolhouse for the children — who are adorable additions to the cast — and a cafe where Abigail Stanton (Lori Loughlin) dispenses wisdom, cookies, tough love, and handles the problems of the town as its first female mayor.
The Family Connection
Though few of the characters are biologically linked on the series, Hope Valley residents have come together to create a family of their own and have proven many times over that love is more important than a familial tie. Whether it's the joy of a wedding, the danger of a band of outlaws targeting the town, or a mudslide that's devastated newcomers, the characters come together to protect one another, to celebrate and to rebuild. It's a community that fans wish existed in reality more often.
While the show does have an element of faith woven into the episodes, it takes a gentle approach, weaving in the small, everyday miracles that we don't always see. With Frank Hogan (Mark Humphreys) serving as the town's pastor, he offers words of wisdom and offers of prayer that come across as kind reminders that, for these characters, there is a greater plan and a greater purpose.
The Strong Women
The women of Hope Valley are strong, fiercely independent and can hold their own. They're not scared to don work clothes and head into a mine to save their homes, to stand up to evil when it stares them in the face, or to strike out on their own even when the odds are stacked against them.
These are widows, single women who've undertaken a calling that has brought them to a rugged frontier town, and caregivers that are the backbone of the community. These women are hardworking and willing to go to battle to protect those they love. And they are just one of the reasons why Hope Valley is a home.
This is a frontier romance, and while it doesn't go past hand-holding and kissing, the chemistry between the on-screen couples is enough to make fans root for them, weep when they weep, and laugh when they laugh.
Jack and Elizabeth have melted fans' hearts with a tender love story that is both heartwarming and challenging. Viewers root for this couple because they want to believe happily ever after exists. And once a week on Sundays, it does.
Series creator Brian Bird summed up the show in an interview with Aleteia:
"Hope Valley itself is a throwback to the values of yesteryear: the great virtues of hope, faith, love, courage, nobility, redemption, forgiveness, sacrifice, and communities pulling together to help each other in times of need. It’s in the tradition of Michael’s [Landon, Jr.] father’s show, Little House on the Prairie, in that family, faith, and community are the most important thing in our lives.”
If you haven't seen When Calls the Heart yet, Season 1-3 are streaming on Netflix, and Season 4 is available on Amazon Prime.