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In rural 1840's Scotland, Gavin Dishart arrives to become the new "little minister" of Thrums's Auld Licht church. He meets a mysterious young gypsy girl in the dens and to his horror Babbie draws him into her escape from the soldiers after she incites a Luddite riot. But unknown to Gavin, Babbie is more than she seems. And they must overcome her secret, the villagers' fears of her, and worst of all, Gavin's devotion to his mother's sensibilities, before they can openly declare their love. Written by
Although the copyright records state the film is based on J.M. Barrie's 1891 novel and not his 1897 play, most reviewers specify only the play. The onscreen credit does not say on which work the film is based. See more »
Which may sound strange coming from someone whose favorite film is Local Hero, but the longer this slight, overly delicate movie ran the more irritated I became with it. I appreciated the care with which it was mounted, but the story is far, far too thin to justify its nearly two hour running time. The final 30 minutes or so reminded me of the similarly unendurable A.I., the way it bludgeons you with its sickening sentimentality and needlessly draws out every scene, DEMANDING that you feel something, ANYTHING, PLEASE! The only thing I felt was nauseous. There isn't enough going on here to sustain interest. The movie might have been a mild success at 70 minutes, at over 100 it wears you down.
The fundamental flaw at the heart of this film is the notion that the entire town would be completely devastated at the knowledge that their new minister would have interest in the opposite sex. It isn't as if he's a Catholic priest, there's no rule forbidding him to get married. Why the town drunk would be practically suicidal at the rumors that the minister is seeing someone (and the fact she's apparently a lowly gypsy is never made much of) is never made at all clear. When his pitiful son tearfully explains that his dad is "over-fond of the minister," I really started to squirm. What exactly is this film suggesting and why are nearly all the other women in this town invisible besides Hepburn's Babbie? In any event, it is impossible to expect modern audiences to relate to a movie with such an alien plot device. It simply doesn't come off, and if the town drunk is so heartbroken over all of this, what exactly occurs in the final act that suddenly makes the minister's relationship with Hepburn okay?
And if you want to see an example of weak writing and storytelling, pay attention to the whole underdeveloped subplot concerning Babbie's aristocratic suitor, the one who plans to marry her "in a fortnight." Babbie airily points out a couple times that he "doesn't really love him," so it would be no big deal if she broke off their engagement. Really? Well, why are we supposed to believe that? Could it be because the man gets virtually no screen time and is stiffly portrayed by a forgettable actor? This is most certainly NOT the stuff of which classics are made. You see, there's never any contest between this man and John Beal's minister. And therefore, no drama. If you want me to believe that Beal and Hepburn are meant for each other then, as a filmmaker, you have to come up with much more compelling reasons why they are being kept apart.
If you're a fan of Hepburn or Barrie or even John Beal, you may be willing to forgive The Little Minister its many flaws, but if you're none of the above, you've been warned. This is the sort of old movie that scares people away from old movies. It wasn't much good then and it's even worse now.
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