Francine Rivers has adapted her best-selling novel Redeeming Love for the Big Screen with director D. J. Caruso, a life-changing story of relentless love and perseverance as a young couple’s relationship clashes with the harsh realities of the California Gold Rush of 1850.
The story of Redeeming Love is far too near to Rivers’ heart. In fact, the book only came about because God had moved in her life.
“I actually did feel called to it,” Rivers said. “We were doing different home Bible studies and came to the minor prophets. When we came to the Book of Hosea that just cracked me wide open.
“I had been writing in the general market for a number of years, steamy historical romance. And I became a Christian and couldn’t write for three years. So, there had been this lull in there, and after reading Hosea, I felt like God was saying, ‘This is the love story I want you to write.’”
Since its publication in 1991, the book has sold over 3 million copies, been translated into 30 languages and developed legions of dedicated fans.
Retelling the biblical story of Hosea, Redeeming Love centres on the unlikely relationship of Sarah, who becomes known as Angel (Abigail Cowen), and Michael Hosea (Tom Lewis). Sold into prostitution as a child, the now 18-year-old is a beautiful and in-demand woman in a rough and tumble prospecting town in California. Michael, on the other hand, is a farmer and man of faith. Through their relationship, Angel discovers there is no brokenness that love can’t heal.
From Page To Screen
For years, Producer Cindy Bond chased those rights, but every time she came close, another producer had them. In 2015, she met and developed a friendship with Francine Rivers. They found they had the same vision for what this film needed to be.
“I felt the hand of God on Redeeming Love from the moment I felt God moved me to get the film rights to the book,” Bond said.
“This book means so much to so many millions of women,” Producer Cindy Bond said. “This book has been a big part of their lives, as it has been a big part of my life. And just for that reason alone, we have gone to extraordinary measures to be incredibly mindful about every single detail of this movie, from the script to attention to the book itself.
“One of the key things in our conversations was that this was a movie she wanted to be made on a level of excellence,” Bond recalled. “She said to me, ‘I don’t want Pretty Woman of the West.’”
Landing a director with D.J. Caruso’s big-budget film experience appeared similarly meant to be. “Cindy got a call randomly saying D.J. Caruso’s wife read the book, and he wanted to meet with us about possibly directing,” Producer Brittany Yost said. “The timing of it was crazy because we hadn’t even done a single offer to any other director. And he was wanting to meet with us to basically pitch us on his vision for the film. So next thing we know, we’re meeting with him and his wife; his wife is talking more passionately than anybody about her connection to the book and that D.J.’s just as passionately connected. And next thing we know, we said, ‘OK, let’s make this happen. Let’s partner together and make this movie.’”
“For years this film has been trying to be made, and a lot of people have had a hard time adapting this massive novel into a screenplay,” Yost said. “But Francine was actually the one that cracked it and gave us a solid foundation from which we then took it into the script that we’re shooting now. It had to be her. She was the only one that knew the story in and out to get the right beats for it to be summarized into a feature film.”
D.J. Caruso revised it based on his extensive experience, and the result is a movie families with teenagers will be able to see together and which stays true to Rivers’ portrait of pain, unconditional love, failure, forgiveness and, ultimately, the power of God to heal.
“I want audiences to come out of Redeeming Love, those people who have carried shame,” Bond said, “shame of bad decisions they’ve made or been the victim of. To know that all of that can be forgiven, that they are worthy of forgiveness, that they are more than conquerors, that God accepts them as they are, to not ever let that block them, that they can be free of all of that. I want the film to be a ‘shame cleaner,’ just cleanse the sin out of our lives to know that they are good enough for God’s love and full redemption. I also want people to come out of there to feel that marriage was God’s will, that love and sex and marriage, that you can have an incredible relationship, a better relationship than anything the world can ever offer you. That’s not out of style.”
“Reading the script, I was just immediately drawn to Angel’s character,” Abigail Cowen said. “Seeing the things she went through as a young child and an adult. It really drew me to her and seeing how she also overcame it. But the script didn’t hold back on anything. It wasn’t this beautiful story, even though it is, but it wasn’t portraying this idea that ‘man saves woman and everything’s great, and she’s healed.’ It shows the reality of what trauma does to someone.”
For Tom Lewis, it was the fidelity of the script to the book that hooked him. “I read the whole book just to get a taste of exactly what it was,” Lewis recalled. “You hear terms like ‘Christian novel’ and you’re not quite sure exactly what that means. But actually, it didn’t read like how’d you expect a Christian novel to be. It just read like a really, really good novel. And it’s just these people believed in God, as everyone did in those times. It was the norm. It was a lot darker than I expected when I first read it. And then when I spoke to D.J. (Caruso), he had a very similar view as me of what the character Michael needed and how dark and gritty the book needed to be. I didn’t want to do it if it was a kind of fairy tale, wishy-washy version of the novel. I didn’t want them to shy away from that, but D.J. didn’t intend to. I think that really drew me to it.”
“It’s going to grab everyone because this is just this big sweeping, epic, gorgeous, emotional movie,” Bond said. “It’s just so enveloping in terms of the visuals and the characters and the whole world that we’re creating, that you’re just going to be taken in immediately. You will fall in love with the character of Angel, and you will fall in love with Michael. It’s female-driven. This movie will attract teenagers, mothers and grandmothers because the book has been out for almost 30 years. So, you’re talking about a generational movie. This movie and this story, clearly shows what God’s perfect will is for our lives, untainted, unobstructed by what the outside world dictates.”
“Michael’s love changes Angel because it’s unconditional. He wants nothing from her. He just purely loves her with no strings attached, just like Jesus loved and died for us. And he still, of course, loves us unconditionally and eternally. And that’s Michael’s love for Angel – unconditional and unending.
The search for the proper location shoots took producers to New Mexico, Mexico and Canada. Then they decided on South Africa.
“South Africa became a huge piece to the puzzle here because once we’ve decided to partner together and make this movie, that became the debate, where are we shooting it?” Yost recalled. “South Africa was written off for a while because it was too far, and how can you do a Western that’s super American in South Africa? I mean, how is that even possible?
“So, we looked at New Mexico, we tried Mexico, Canada then South Africa. We very quickly realized that this is the perfect home for this film because of the lush green, the mountains, the trees, the vineyards. That is what Northern California is, all of those elements.”
Parts of historic buildings in Cape Town allowed Boston 1835 to spring to life for Sarah/Angel’s early years. The waterfront created the wharves of San Francisco in 1850. And as for Pair-a-Dice? They built it. A whole town in the South African countryside.