Follow the River
In this period film, made in 1995 by Martin Davidson, Eric Schweig plays the role of a young Shawnee Indian chief named Wildcat. He co-starred with actress Sheryl Lee, who plays the role of the heroine, Mary Ingles, a true character in the American History.
The story takes place in the 18th century in the United States and is based on the novel by James Alexander Thom. The film begins by showing Will Ingles farm in the Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, and his harmonious family life with his beloved wife, the beautiful Irish Mary, along with her step- mother, Mary’s younger brother and sister and his son Thomas. Mary is several months pregnant and one morning, she feels a strange premonition. A few hours later, the farm is attacked by Shawnee Indians, while Will and Mary’s brother went away to work on their land.
The Shawnees capture Mary, her son and her younger sister. During the long walk through the forest to the village of the Shawnees along the Ohio River, Mary feels that her husband is still alive and will starts looking for her. This thought gives her an unshakable courage to face the situation. Wildcat then noticed not only the beauty of Mary, but also her strength and determination to survive. When Mary stumbled on a rock, Wildcat rushes to help her. Their eyes meet and we see the obvious attraction of the young Indian chief for the beautiful Irish woman. Meanwhile, Will Ingles brings men to go in search for the captives.
While the group of Shawnees and prisoners continue their journey in the forest, Wildcat shows real concern for Mary, although he remains unforgiving for any sign of weakness on the part of his prisoners. So, when she has just given birth to her daughter at the foot of a grove of trees, he invites Mary to stand up and continue walking. Gathering her strength and still shaky, Mary obeyed, knowing that the only way to survive her captors is to show her strength. Conquered by Mary and her courage, Wildcat suddenly begins a humorous interlude, imitating a Shawnee mother during childbirth. This amazing scene, which clashes somewhat with the rest of the film, shows Eric Schweig perfectly comfortable with comedy and mime.
When the group arrives at the village of the Shawnees, Mary and her sister are well received by Wildcat’s mother. Some French settlers crossing the village, including a trader named Laplante, confirms to Mary that this gesture is a clear mark of the high esteem in which Wildcat carries her. Then Laplante hires Mary in his shop to make clothes, while his young Indian wife takes care of Mary’s baby. Although she adapts to the situation and welcomes with gratitude expressions of interest from the young Indian chief, Mary confirms to her younger sister, who now doubts the love of Mary for her husband, that she hates their captors and plays their game just to survive, with the aim of one day return home. Thus, when Wildcat offers her to marry him and raise her son as his own, she reminds her seductive captor that her son already has a father. In revenge for this refusal, Wildcat sells Mary and some other captives to the French settlers, keeping the son of Mary with him.
For the second part of the film, we do not see Eric Schweig again on the screen, except for the final scene. This second part shows the incredible journey of Mary, who fled into the forest with an old German woman, also sold to the French settlers by Wildcat. Equipped with only an ax and a blanket and following the river, the two women remake the perilous journey back to the farm of Mary. They are found in extremis by English settlers, half dead from hunger and cold. Mary and Will are finally reunited, their love still alive and intact.
In the final scene, a few months later, we see Wildcat arriving at the Ingles farm with Mary’s two children. He has brought them back safely to greet her incredible courage.
This film made for television by Hallmark Home Entertainment was shot almost entirely outdoors (Sapphire, North Carolina). Although it does not have the resources of a large production (the costumes are fairly rudimentary), the actors are well directed. Lee and Schweig show a strong bond on the screen, especially in the famous scene where Mary takes Wildcat’s measures to make him a coat, while he offers to become her companion.
The script, the shooting and the music of “Follow the River” sometimes refers to the movie “The Last of the Mohicans” in which Schweig played three years earlier. “Follow the River” is an epic of one woman’s grit, loyalty and determination and an “inspirational” saga of a pioneer woman.
Director: Martin Davidson
Writer: Jennifer Miller
Stars: Sheryl Lee, Ellen Burstyn, Eric Schweig, Tim Guinee, Renée O’Connor, Tyler Noyes, Tony Amendola.