Monday, 20 October 2014

The Claim, 2000

A brief overview of an as-yet unseen film adaptation of a Thomas Hardy classic for Tuesday's Overlooked Films, Audio & Video at Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom.

I read and studied abstracts of novels by Charles Dickens (Pickwick Papers, David Copperfield, and A Tale of Two Cities) and Thomas Hardy (The Mayor of Casterbridge) in school. The Victorian authors introduced me to their celebrated genre, the classics. In later years, I was more inclined to read Dickens because he was easier to read than Hardy, whose dystopian tales weren’t exactly my cup of tea. Then, a few years ago, I reread The Mayor of Casterbridge and rediscovered Hardy and understood the novel much better than when I read it in my youth. I both like and dislike the powerful and pathetic character of Michael Henchard, who, in a drunken fit, sells his wife and little girl to a passing sailor. It remains my favourite novel by Thomas Hardy.

I mention this particular novel because the story, which is set in the fictional town of Casterbridge, Wessex, is imprinted in my memory. Not many novels stay with me. I was, therefore, surprised when I read that The Claim (2000), a loose adaptation of The Mayor of Casterbridge, is set in distant California and not in Wessex, the setting for many of Hardy’s novels. I have not seen the movie yet.

Not only does director Michael Winterbottom take Thomas Hardy’s story out of Wessex, he also substitutes the original storyline and characters.

In the film Michael Henchard doesn’t get drunk and auction his wife and daughter. Instead, Daniel Dillon (Peter Mullan) is an Irish immigrant who sells his wife Elena Burn (Nastassja Kinski) and month-old baby Hope Burn (Sarah Polley) to a prospector for the rights to a goldmine in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California.

For the next twenty years or so, Dillon amasses a great deal of wealth and owns nearly every business in the old west town of Kingdom Come. Then, one day, Elena and Hope accompany Donald Dalglish (Wes Bentley) to the town and give Dillon the shock of his life. His dark secret is about to be exposed. Dalglish is a surveyor with the Central Pacific Railroad which wants to build a railroad through Kingdom Come.

On the face of it, The Claim sounds very interesting because it is set just after the California Gold Rush of 1849 and it has all the elements of one of my favourite genres, western, such as romance, gold mining, railroad, and the symbolic frontier town of Kingdom Come that will decide the fate of Michael Henchard’s alter ego in the film.

I plan to see the film and compare it with Hardy’s classic, though, I think, both deserve their own place. Have you seen The Claim?

16 comments:

  1. Interesting. Hardy has never really done it for me but I did study him at school. Dickens I absolutely love, despite his flaws, and read him still.

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    1. Sarah, I have only recently gone back to the books of Dickens and Hardy and I enjoy reading them. Hardy's JUDE THE OBSCURE was a revelation.

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  2. Does sound interesting. I had not even heard of this movie.

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    1. Charles, I heard of the movie while reviewing THE WRECK OF THE GOLDEN MARY by Charles Dickens, and I'm curious to watch it.

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  3. Hmm, a new one on me Prashant - I've never heard of the film.
    I have managed to avoid reading Hardy for 50 plus years and Dickens for the past 35.....I reckon I can go another 50 before re-assessing the situation!

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    1. Col, I rediscovered classics when I read ROBINSON CRUSOE in the early part of this century. I couldn't put the book down. I still have a lot of Dickens and Hardy to read yet.

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  4. New to me too. I would guess I'd prefer the original. I usually do.

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    1. Richard, there have been a couple of films, a television series, and a radio show based on THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE which, I believe, were true to the original.

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  5. I really admire the way the Western genre can incorporate so many different sources (from Shakespeare to Samurai remakes) - I haven't seen this one yet, though I really admire Winterbottom - thanks Prashant, must find this one!

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    1. Sergio, you are welcome. I'm already looking for it. I think the book would actually work in a Western setting. The story can be modified to suit the genre, as evident from the sale of the wife for a goldmine.

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  6. Hadn't heard of the film, Prashant, though I'd heard of the book. (Didn't know what it was about since I've never read any Hardy - that I can remember.) I'm lagging woefully behind in the reading of Victorian classics, I'm afraid.

    I suppose anything can be done in a western setting, probably because there are so few 'strictures'. Anything goes out west. I too love a good western, though from what I can gather, you've seen way more modern ones than I have. I'm more familiar with vintage cowboys. :)

    This one sounds very interesting, Prashant. I'll keep an eye out on Netflix.

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    1. Yvette, thank you. I have been reading more vintage and early westerns than modern westerns. I also manage to see a handful of westerns every year, depending on what I find online. I find them highly entertaining. I agree, western movies are full of possibilities.

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  7. I remember reading about this film when it first came out, and thinking I'd like to see it. I think a new take on the Hardy would be very interesting. I will get round to seeing it one day....

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    1. Moira, I think THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE hasn't been adapted to film as often as some of the other Victorian classics like A CHRISTMAS CAROL, for instance. I believe there is one other film based on Hardy's novel and made not very long ago.

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  8. This is totally new to me, Prashant. Sounds interesting. I had not thought of re-reading Hardy but maybe I will someday. Dickens I have read very little. My husband has read more in that area.

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    1. Tracy,,my reading of classics has declined over the past couple of years and I'm hoping to read a few in 2015.

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