The power of this tale has transferred admirably to the screen
without losing any of its force. All of the actors give flawless
performances under the direction of Nicholas Hytner (who has
impressed us in the past with The Madness of King George).
Arthur Miller wrote the screenplay based upon his stage hit of
the 50's. He and Hytner have collaborated to create a work that
has refashioned the play into an equally memorable film. It
deals with the witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts that took
place in the late 17th century. A bunch of teenage girls are
suspected of possession by the Devil and, under the leadership of
Abigail Williams, they begin to terrorize the community with
false accusations of witchcraft. And what a naughty girl that
Abigail was, because, for those of you who don't know, the story
is based upon fact, and Abigail was a young girl scorned by the
married man she so desperately wanted. The names and places have
not been changed to protect the guilty.
And there is a sharp double-edge to the tale. Miller found
himself engulfed, as many other American citizens, in the
relentless witch hunt of Senator Joe McCarthy and his House
Committee on Un-American Activities in the 50's. McCarthy may
have finally fallen by the wayside after having destroyed
numerous lives, but the bigoted mentality driven to point a
finger and place blame always manages to find roots in new soil.
The tale is as topical now as it was then. As Miller himself
says, 'The enemy is within, and within stays within.'
As magnificent as the art direction, the choice of location (Hog
Island), the costuming and make-up, the cinematography and all
elements contributing to the establishment of period may be, they
create no distraction from the story itself, but rather enhance
Daniel Day-Lewis delivers his typical brilliant performance, but
with a cast including Winona Ryder, Paul Scofield, Joan Allen,
Bruce Davison, Rob Campbell, Jeffrey Jones, Charlayne Woodard,
Frances Conroy and Peter Vaughn all performing at top level, it
even becomes difficult to single him out. Guess we'll just have
to give superb points to the whole cast and add on more superb
points for Arthur Miller and Nicolas Hynter. A must see.
© 1994-2006 The Green Hartnett