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From March 2001
Film Review

SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE
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THE CLAIM
4 Stars- Recommended

Moving House in The Claim

It's Thomas Hardy on Ice!

STARS: Wes Bentley, Peter Mullan
Sarah Polley, Nastassia Kinski, Milla Jovovich

DIRECTOR: Michael Winterbottom
SCREENPLAY: Frank Cottrell Boyce
CERTIFICATE: 15DISTRIBUTOR and Picture copyright: Pathé
RUNNING TIME: 2hrs
OPENING DATE (UK): February 5

It's a Wonderful Wife?

Already our most prolific director working today, Winterbottom has made a bold step with The Claim, his second film, after Jude, to be inspired by the writings of Wessex novelist Thomas Hardy. At times he stumbles, as his characters do, in the snowy wastes of Sierra Nevada at the height of the gold rush. For the most part, however, his footing is sure, as he attempts to return to the international arena after his more recent Brit-centric movies, like Wonderland and I Want You.

With a film that casts American Beauty’s Wes Bentley, Joan of Arc herself Milla Jovovich and Canada’s best kept secret, Sarah Polley, Winterbottom must now be recognized as one of our most valuable assets in the British film industry.

Reuniting the director with Frank Cottrell Boyce, the scribe from his last overseas venture Welcome to Sarajevo, the pair are loosely inspired by Hardy’s novel of fate and fatality The Mayor of Casterbridge. Set in 1849, The Claim begins when one Daniel Dillon (Mullan) is master of all he surveys. Owner of all that is of any importance in the thriving mountain town of Kingdom Come (the film’s original title, incidentally), his life is threatened after the arrival of three people to the area. While Bentley’s surveyor, with his plans to link the town to the Central Pacific railroad, sets about dividing Dillon from his people, it is the emotional baggage brought by young Hope (Polley) and her mother Elena (Kinski) that ultimately leads to his destruction.

Outstanding from the ensemble cast is Mullan, whose descent to social pariah is registered by the actor with careful delineation. Also good are Bentley and Jovovich, who plays Dillon’s neglected squeeze, but Kinski and the usually-excellent Polley are rather flaccid with roles that merely seem to require them standing around looking pale. What impresses most, though, is the way in which the stunning snowscape photography and detailed production design do not disturb Boyce’s emotionally resonant storyline. Despite, at times, its lethargic pace, The Claim still makes for an enthralling two hours.

James Mottram

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