Compelling re-telling of the Salem Witch Trials
z hayes | TX | 10/10/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
""Salem Witch Trials" is a compelling 2003 CBS mini-series that featured many familiar and veteran actors and for the most part, stayed true to the historical events that came to be known as the Salem Witch Trials.
The mini-series begins on a rather odd note - it is right in the middle of a trial where the afflicted girls [who are the ones accusing people of witchcraft]go into hysterics and start wailing and screaming, then the accused start transforming into 'demons' [with rather striking make-up and 'flying' special effects]. Thankfully, this only lasts a couple of minutes [the production could have done without it], and viewers are taken back via flashback to six months prior where the events began.
The story focuses on the Puritans residing in the village of Salem, Massachusetts, and the year is 1691. There is no charter from England and hence, the Puritans basically govern themselves without any written law. Those who commit crimes or sins are publicly humiliated [there is a scene where women deemed guilty of sinful conduct are paraded naked whilst tied to a wagon]. The family that is the focal point in this series is the Putnam family - Ann Putnam [Kirstie Alley] gives birth to a stillborn child and is full of grief. Her husband Thomas Putnam [Jay O Sanders] is a bitter man, having lost a lot of his land and wealth to others who are more entrepreneurial. They have a son and daughter and young Annie Putnam [Katie Boland] senses the tension between her parents and finds herself being neglected, hence her desire to act out as a means of gaining attention.
Things are not helped by the Reverend Parris [Henry Czerny] who in his desperate desire to maintain his standing amongst members of his congregation, convinces them that all the social unrest and calamities befalling villagers are the work of diabolical forces.
Soon, a group of girls, including Parris' own daughter and niece start crying out and acting strangely, convulsing and going into trances, and finally accusing innocent townspeople of witchcraft.Amongst the earliest accused are Sarah Good, a poor woman who begs for a living, and Tituba [Gloria Reuben] who is a slave working in the Parris household. The number of accused increases as the girls find themselves getting more attention and begin to gain a sense of power. The production convincingly portrays the social restrictions of the time and of the harsh living conditions of the Puritans, and posits several plausible theories as to the cause of the 'madness' that beset Salem village at that time - the repressed social lives of the Puritans, the lack of freedom, not much in terms of passing one's time, the desperate need for attention amongst the young, and also the politics of life in a community where villagers frequently argued and even brought lawsuits against one another over property and business.
The storyline is riveting and moves along at a steady but sure pace, building momentum as the horror unfolds - the acting is also solid and credible - Kirstie Alley's Ann Putnam is a conflicted and tortured soul. Her grief over her dead child causes her to turn to a village medicine woman, Bridgitte Bishop who is later accused as a witch, and this in turn causes her immense guilt [for turning 'away' from God]. She is by turns horrified and self-righteous at the situation in Salem. This is one of Alley's best dramatic performances to date. Henry Czerny's Rev Parris is credibly done, acting out the part of a so-called man of God who decries against self-interest whilst shamelessly practising it for self-preservation. Then there is young Katie Boland as Annie Putnam who incites revulsion for her performance as the misguided accuser.Rebecca de Mornay plays Rev Parris' wife who is mortified by the events in Salem and finally leaves her husband.
There are also veteran actors who have done an incredible job with their roles here - Shirley Maclaine plays the ill-fated Rebecca Nurse, one of the accused who also happens to be a pillar in society, a devout mother and elderly woman who maintains her faith and sense of humor in the bleakest of times. Peter Ustinov plays the Magistrate William Stoughton, a man so absorbed in proving the accused guilty that he never once questions his judgements. And there is Alan Bates playing Gvernor Sir William Phips, who initially acts the dandy and seems disinterested but who eventually realises something is seriously wrong in Salem.
The sets and costumes lend an authentic feel to the story, making the Salem of 1691-'92 come alive onscreen. All in all, this is a first-class production and will appeal to history buffs, educators [though with some nudity I'm not sure if it would be appropriate for classroom viewing] and period & historical drama fans.Highly recommended!
An Instant Classic
Master of Reality | San Antonio | 03/15/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Ok, I have just finished watching this movie and let me tell you, it was worth the 3 hrs of run time from beginning to end. The cast was superb and the acting was magnificent. The well played out plot was as close as a movie can come to dipicting a real life event. The movie kept much to the real story of the Salem Witch trials, or as close to as the historians have written about. This movie is worth every cent I sent on it and I recommend it very highly."
This Movie Is Superb!
J.F. | Kansas City, MO. | 10/01/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I rented this movie and I now bought it here form Amazon. The acting in this move was very impressive. The detail of the characters was awesome. It was so sad the way the towns people was so intimidated by the church. This movie is a part of American history, it is very well worth the money and time to watch this movie."