A small group of teen girls in 1692 Salem, Massachusetts caught in an innocent conjuring of love potions to catch young men are forced to tell lies that Satan had invaded them and forced them to participate in the rites and are then forced to name those involved. Thrown into the mix are greedy preachers and other major landowners trying to steal others' land and one young woman infatuated with a married man and determined to get rid of his innocent wife. Arthur Miller wrote the events and the subsequent trials where those who demanded their innocence were executed, those who would not name names were incarcerated and tortured, and those who admitted their guilt were immediately freed as a parable of the Congressional Communist witch hunts led by Senator Joe McCarthy in 1950's America. Written by
John Sacksteder <email@example.com>
Powerful telling which uses the camera well to open the play up
The day after Rev Parris finds his daughter and niece dancing in a group in the forest, several of the girls in the village are deep in sleep unable to be wakened. Rev Hale is called in to investigate and Abby Williams speaks up claiming witchcraft and that she and the other girls had been brought into it by the devil himself. As the investigation continues, Abby leads the claims on a twisted vendetta, eventually ending at the door of John Proctor and his family, the man she had an affair with and still loves.
I have never seen this on the stage, although my wife claims we did 2 years ago, and am unable to really compare this to other versions. However the first time I saw this film it grabbed me by the sheer force behind it. The plot is emotive and increasingly griping as it spirals out of control and Abby guides the justice of the court. The script is excellently written sturdy yet capable of bringing out so much without trivialising or simplifying it. I defy anyone to not get sucked into this story as it is so well written.
Of course this would stutter a little without a suitably strong cast to carry it off. Happily the film is strong in performances and strong in depth. Day Lewis is deceptively light at the start, but the way he brings himself on during the film to his final shot is moving. Allen gives him able, albeit less showy, support. Ryder gives one of her best performances I've seen. Although she is required to be hysterical for much of the film she carries it off convincingly and, when needed, she is as menacing as a black hearted woman can be. Scofield is driven and well pitched but is helped by great support from Campbell and, more surprisingly, Gaynes (better known as Police Academy's Lassard). A rich cast of males in the chief support roles (Jones, Davison and Vaughan) really help not only do they deliver the goods but their faces give the constant perception of depth.
The direction could easily have treated this as a stage production but Hytner opens it out without ever going over the top. The themes within the book are easily brought out and Hytner never stands in their way he lets us take what we can from the material without too much flair in the way. Overall this is a fantastic version of the play it is intelligent, well acted and very moving and involving. It may have the occasional weak link but those are pretty minor. Anyone with a passing interest in very good films should watch this.
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