Customer Review

45 of 52 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "Your justice would freeze beer.", 1 July 2004
This review is from: The Crucible [1997] [DVD] (DVD)
Although the playwright Arthur Miller was also the screenwriter for this production starring Winona Ryder and Daniel Day-Lewis, the film bears little resemblance to the play in tone and impact. Director Nicholas Hytner has abandoned the intimate, almost claustrophobic atmosphere of the dark, interior scenes in the play, in favor of an expansive setting, with many scenes set outside, including panoramic shots of Salem in 1692, full of costumed "citizens." The expanded setting makes the psychology and motivation of the witchcraft hysteria more difficult to determine, since the intensity of the settlers' repressed, interior lives is not obvious. In addition, the explanatory notes which Miller incorporates into the play about the various land disputes, religious controversies, and personal animosities, which led to specific individuals being accused and arrested for witchcraft, are seen only peripherally.
As a result, we see Winona Ryder, as Abigail Williams, and her coterie of bewitched girls, screaming hysterically and accusing innocent women of witchcraft without the necessary background which would make these accusations plausible. Her previous relationship with John Proctor (Daniel Day-Lewis), in the absence of other motivations, seems to be the primary reason for her behavior, but this thwarted love does not explain the extent of her rage or the involvement of the other girls. Day-Lewis is reduced to the role of victim, and one of the hallmarks of his acting, his subtlety, is absent here. Some details of the scenery also ring false. Houses in this period were very small because of the difficulty of heating, though John Proctor's house here is as large as that of a governor, and other buildings, including the church/meeting house are huge, contrary to the religious avoidance of display during the period.
This is a Hollywood version of the witchcraft trials, capitalizing on the sensational without conveying the tumultuous background--the Indian wars which were just ending, the growing independence of individuals, the increasing resentment of the all-powerful church with its hard-line restrictions, the limitations placed on women, and most importantly, the lack of any role whatsoever for young women, who were not old enough to assume a woman's role but were old enough to have reached sexual maturity without any outlet for their feelings, a lethal mix of boredom and repression. The film is beautiful, and the acting, though one-dimensional, is as effective as it can be in the absence of fully-developed motivation for the girls' hysteria. The "witches" are reduced to cartoons here, and Miller's parallels between these trials and the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s, which put the play's trials into a modern context, are missing. Mary Whipple
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 24 Feb 2008 21:07:19 GMT
Sunshine says:
I studied the original play many years ago and this review beautifully sums up the difference between the play and the film. Mary Whipple has really captured the essence of the witch hunts, the play and the film - in just 3 paragraphs.

In reply to an earlier post on 5 Mar 2008 06:30:00 GMT
Last edited by the author on 29 Jun 2012 19:58:34 BDT
Mary Whipple says:
Thanks, Clare. Having lived for many years only a few miles from where the trials were held, they've been a part of my life for a long time. For twenty-five years we lived in a house built in 1680 (and beside a meeting house), twelve years before the witch trials were even held, and the architecture and furnishings in the film bear no resemblance to what was characteristic of the period. The difference between Hollywood reality and "real" reality (including Miller's version of reality) are very striking in all areas of this film. :-) Best, Mary

Posted on 29 Jun 2012 16:38:49 BDT
An excellent review! I thoroughly agree. You might be interested in the book 'The Witches Of Warboys' - an well researched factual account of the witchcraft trial that happened in the small village of Warboys, Cambridgeshire, England. This trial actually set the precedent for the Salem witch trials held some time later.

In reply to an earlier post on 29 Jun 2012 19:59:31 BDT
Mary Whipple says:
Thanks for the suggestion, Clint! Will take a look at that book, which sounds very interesting. Best regards, Mary
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Mary Whipple

Location: New England

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