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Moll Flanders

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Moll Flanders

Starring: Robin Wright, Morgan Freeman
Director: David Atwood
Rated: NR
RunTime: 160 Minutes
Release Date: June 1996
Genres: Drama, Romance

*Also starring: Alex Kingston, Caroline Harker, Christopher Fulford, Colin Buchanan, Daniel Craig, Dawn McDaniel, Diana Rigg, Ian Driver

Review by Steve Rhodes
4 stars out of 4

Okay admit it, when you hear the title MOLL FLANDERS, you think of that racy novel from high school. Yes, this is the same Daniel Defoe book, but an excellent director, Pen Densham, has made it into a marvelous character study and moving motion picture. Certainly, MOLL FLANDERS can be a bit bawdy at times, but compared to most popular films today, the depiction of the sex here is tame. This is cinema at its best: great actors, stirring music, impressive sets, and an intelligent script.

As the story starts, Hibble (Morgan Freeman from SEVEN, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, DRIVING MISS DAISY, and GLORY among others) takes a little girl named Flora (Aisling Corcoran) out of an orphanage. It is his duty to read Flora the memoirs of her dying mother, Moll Flanders (Robin Wright from FORREST GUMP), whom she never knew. Flora is a saucy and high strung girl of about 7 who is more interested in escaping that hearing some silly old morality tale. Hibble is just as determined that she will listen carefully to every single word of it.

As chronicled in her memoirs, Moll lead a miserable life. Her mother was in prison to be hanged when she was raped by a guard. They postponed the execution until the day Moll is born. The script, which I believe is a loose adaptation of the novel, stays with spirit of the book and the cadence of the speech, but takes a lot of liberties. It paints a Dickensian picture of the world that stretches credulity a bit, but it was easy for me to suspend disbelieve. I bought the story lock, stock, and barrel.

Moll comes to live in a religious school where the priests' fondle her and the nuns do not believe Moll's complaints. She is a strong willed young woman who defiantly proclaims, "I'm not going to fear any man of flesh and blood, no matter what costume he wears." Soon she escapes from her hellish home and in an upbeat mood reflects that, "Hope comes to the young as naturally as the spring rains."

Moll goes to work in the charitable home of Mrs. Mazzawatti (Brenda Fricker from A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE and MY LEFT FOOT), and they attempt to teach her all of the social graces. Mrs. Mazzawatti's daughters are anything but charitable, and Moll is forced to leave for quite surprising reasons that you will never be able to guess in advance.

Moll is next taken in at a bordello runs by a conniving madam named Mrs. Allworthy (Stockard Channing from SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION). Hibble is Mrs. Allworthy's second in command. Perhaps he would be considered her butler. At any rate, he and Moll eventually become good friends. At first Moll just cleans the floors at the bordello, and life is still hard for her. She is beaten there as she has been all of her life and will be more in the future.

After a while, Mrs. Allworthy's develops an affection for Moll and so give her some advice, "Life's terrible short girl. Give yourself some pleasure. I'll bet you've never been kissed." Soon, she has convinced Moll the way to riches is through prostitution. Mrs. Allworthy makes-up (make-up by Michele Burke) the naturally beautiful Moll to look like a circus clown and auctions off her virginity for one hundred guineas. Moll tries to be optimistic about her life as a whore confiding with us that, "I kept kissing frogs looking for a prince."

After that her life and Mrs. Allworthy's take many turns some for the better and some for the worse. The story is wonderfully rich and varied and always keeps the audience's attention. After being beaten all of her life, she meets a gentle painter of anatomical drawings called The Artist (John Lynch). His evil father is played by Jeremy Brett from "The Sherlock Holmes" series on PBS as well as MY FAIR LADY (1964). The painter hates his father and warns Moll that, "Great money does not a great human make."

The ending of the film is somewhat of a surprise and is extremely effective and moving. MOLL FLANDERS may produce a few natural tears. Although I cried a little toward the end, I never found the script manipulative.

The acting was nothing short of brilliant. It is hard to have a favorite in movies of this caliber. If forced to choose, I'll go with Morgan Freeman's performance as the best. This luminescent actor seems incapable of anything less than a compelling performance. Although this is not his best film, he is great in it.

Technically the movie is on par with the high quality of the acting. In fact, even better than the acting is the script by the director Pen Densham and the music by Mark Mancina. The music has an extensive range from delicate and loving to large and dramatic. I would be pleased to see this picture win many awards, but if I had to pick one, I'd give it to Mark Mancina for the music.

The movie was filmed entirely in Ireland. The dramatic sets (Caroline Hanania) and cinematography (David Tattersall) are gorgeous. The snowy scenes are bleak and yet possess an inner warmth somehow thus suggesting the possibility of hope around the next corner. The costumes (Consolata Boyle) like the sets are lush and evocative without ever being unbelievably ostentatious. My favorite costume is the stern, long blue coat with the brass buttons that Hibble wears.

The director and the editors (Neil Travis and James R. Symons) demonstrate a flawless sense of timing. The movie flows naturally and sometimes slowly, but always with enough energy so that you remain on the edge of your seat. Also the strong mood of the picture has to be credited to the director who is able to fashion just the right pieces to make it all come together.

MOLL FLANDERS is listed as running 2:49, but I think it might be a misprint. Certainly it did seem that long. However long it is, I would not want it edited down. The film is rated R. There is the brutality of that era, but it is done tastefully. There is brief sex, some nudity, but no bad language that I can remember. It would be fine for any teenager and perhaps those a bit younger. I give this show my top recommendation and award it ****.

Copyright 1996 Steve Rhodes

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