Friday, September 30, 2016

Movie Review: Salem Witch Trials

Salem Witch Trials
Alliance Atlantis Communications, Spring Creek Productions, Canada, USA, 2002.
Salem Witch Trials

In 1691 the winter has been harsh and Indians are restless. Small Puritan colony in Salem has a fire. Annie Putnam (Katie Boland) is traumatized when her mother Anne (Kirstie Alley) gives birth to a dead baby for the third time. Anne is depressed by losing the babies and does not know what sin she has done. The villagers suspect that evil forces are causing the accidents. Thomas Putnam (Jay O. Sanders) supports a fanatic priest Samuel Parris (Henry Czerny) who is whipping the sin out of the villagers. Samuel's wife Elizabeth (Rebecca De Mornay) is ill. Stubborn and zealous Putnams and Walcotts have a feud with more liberal-minded and business-oriented Porters and Proctors. 
Henry Czerny and Rebecca De Mornay
Rev. Samuel Parris and Elizabeth Parris (Rebecca De Mornay)
Jay O. Sanders
Thomas Putnam
Kirstie Alley
Anne Putnam
As church won't help Anne, she asks help from Herbalist Bridget Bishop (Shannon Lawson) who is thought to be a witch. Annie sees them meet and gets a hysteric fit and barks like a dog. Previously she saw young William Proctor (David Christo) imitating birds (that was considered unnatural!) so her behaviour was caused by this and the religious stress.
Shirley MacLaine
Rebecca Nurse
Colin Fox
Israel Porter
Gloria Reuben
Joseph Putnam (Zachary Bennett) wants to marry Lizzy Porter (Kristin Booth). Her father Israel Porter (Colin Fox) is in shipping business and accepts the marriage. Joseph is the half-brother of Thomas and Thomas opposes the marriage. Joseph presses Reverend Parris to enforce Puritanism and purge the unclean. Secretly Parris has hots for his Indian slave Tituba (Gloria Reuben) who is the nanny of family's daughter Betty (Elana Shilling) and her cousin Abigail Williams (Sophie Bennett). Tituba is also a fortune teller so that makes her suspicious. Young girls get hysterical so it must be the work of the Devil. The girls blame various villagers for practicing witchcraft. Witch trials are organized to save the village. Not even everybody's pious friend Rebecca Nurse (Shirley MacLaine) is safe from the accusations. Witchfinders Increase Mather (Heinar Pillar) and William Stroughton (Peter Ustinov) arrive to conduct the trial. Scientifically oriented Governor Phips (Alan Bates) has his doubts about the validity of the trial. Thomas Putnam is a professional complainer and many of the accused are his opponents but the Governor is not interested in questioning the religious folks. Twenty villagers are hanged and more are imprisoned.
Peter Ustinov
William Stroughton
Loveless village and oppressive religion probably caused the psychiatric symptoms of the village children and some acted like possessed to gain attention. It has also been suggested that poisonous alkaloid producing ergot-fungi poisoned rye and caused the hallucinations and convulsions of some of the "possessed." The fungus explanation is actually vaguely hinted in one scene. The paranoid atmosphere gave Porters an opportunity to get rid of their political opponents and sexual frustrations and fanaticism of Parris helped to fuel the accusations. There is a film "Crucible" made of the topic, that is more focused on the girls and the trial. "Crucible" was based on Arthur Miller's play that combined Salem's history with an allegory of McCarthy's communist hunts in the 1950s. The mini-series goes deeper into the historic explanations of tensions in the village. "Salem Witch Trials" seems more historically accurate although it has also taken some artistic liberties.

It has good actors and a powerful story about one of the darkest moments in American history. Perhaps the most strongest performances are from Kirstie Alley, as Tom Putnam's wife, who overcomes her superstitions begins to see the real reasons behind the witch hunt and from Shirley MacLaine who finds her own version of religion. Peter Ustinov is also great in one of his last roles. If there is something to complain it is the bad special effects happening in the first few minutes.

Rating: Very good

Starring: Kirstie Alley, Henry Czerny, Gloria Reuben, Jay O. Sanders, Kristin Booth, Katie Boland, Alan Bates, Rebecca De Mornay, Peter Ustinov, Shirley MacLaine, Shannon Lawson, Colin Fox, Camille Wainwright, David Hemblen, Susan Coyne, Nadia Litz, Dixie Seatle, Zachary Bennett, Bradley Reid, Tannis Burnett, Sophie Bennett, Elana Shilling, Amy Stewart, Mairon Bennett, Marisa McIntyre, Sarah Kanter, Nancy Beatty, Tabitha Lupien, Megan Bower, Jackie Laidlaw, Nicky Guadagni, David Christo, Cara Pifko, Hannah Lochner, Linda Prystawska, Arlene Mazerolle, Desmond Ellis, Heinar Pillar, Irene Poole, Adrian Hough, Lindsay Collins, Julian Richings, Chris Benson, Philip Sheperd, Aron Tager, Anne Anglin, Tom Bishop, Anne Page, Tammy Isbell, Paulette Sinclair, Oliver Becker, Araby Lockhart, Jean Daigle, Ned Vukovic, John Watson, Valerie Boyle, Bill Lake, Scotty Cook, Jim Feather, Ken Kramer, Sheldon Yamkovy, Clyde Whitham, Maggie Blake, Sally Clelford, Jason Sharman 
Director: Joseph Sargent


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