When a father and his daughter are reunited after being apart for 12 years, you would think a celebration was in order.
But it turns out to be an unsettling experience for the Ritchies, a family struggling to carve out a living in the Australian outback.And for the daughter, 15-year-old Lara, it's a time of fear, uncertainty and tears.
The conflict that ensues is the subject of "The Echo of Thunder," the latest Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation premiering Sunday night (8 p.m., Ch. 2).
Filmed entirely on location in Australia, the two-hour movie is directed by Simon Wincer, who gave us "The Man from Snowy River" and "Lonesome Dove." The land down under, with its beautiful vistas, serves as a stunning backdrop to this family-oriented drama.
Judy Davis of "Deconstructing Harry" and Jamey Sheridan of "The Ice Storm" star as Gladwyn and Larry Ritchie, who make their living raising palm trees on their rustic farm. Helping them are their three children, Pearl (Chelsea Yates), Opal (Emily Browning) and Jasper (twins Ben and James Hanson).
Although their life is often hard on the farm, the Ritchies are a close, loving family. Then their little world is shaken when a letter arrives informing Larry that his first wife has died and his daughter Lara is coming to live with them. The last time Larry saw Lara, she was 3 years old.
Gladwyn is visibly upset by a news and she frets that a "stranger" in the household will disrupt the family harmonious life. Pearl, the oldest of the three children, is equally upset to discover that "daddy had a daughter before me." She is determined to make things miserable for Lara.
So into this hostile atmosphere arrives Lara, still trying to deal with the loss of her mother and faced with trying to adjust to an unfamiliar life style. Only little Opal greets Lara with enthusiastic open arms.
Lara is excellently played by Lauren Hewett, a 17-year-old Australian who has been performing there since she was 7. That experience shows.
Much to the delight of Gladwyn and Pearl, Lara has a tough time when it comes to learning how to do the many daily chores of farm life. Gladwyn is convinced that within a month, Lara will leave and the family can return to "normal."
At the local high school, Lara finds the same loneliness. She also is harassed by Gowd, the school's resident bully. Gowd has discovered, thanks to Pearl, that Lara has a silver dollar which she cherishes because it was her late mother. Gowd demands that she give him the dollar or suffer the consequences.
The first bright moment comes when Lara, while walking through the countryside, is befriended by a dingo dog whom she calls Thunderwith. Each day she steals away to spend a few moments with her newfound friend.
The situation gets even tougher for Lara when Larry, her only other family ally besides Opal, must leave the household on business.
Hoping to buy a piece of land to expand his palm tree business, Larry has to drive far away deep into the Australian plains the find Cooper, the man who owns the real estate. Many days will pass before Larry can finally corner Cooper.
This is the 196th offering from the Hallmark Hall of Fame, which began on television 47 years ago. As to be expected, "The Echo of Thunder" is a quality production the entire family should enjoy.