Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll Flanders

A few weeks ago I read Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe (and blogged about it here).  I didn't think too much of the novel, but decided to check out a movie adaptation of it.  I liked this movie more than the book.  The movie raised my respect for the book and made me wonder how much I missed in my reading.  Like any movie adaptation, much was skipped, in terms of story, and much was added, in terms of tone and emphasis.

The essentials of the story were well-preserved.  I should note that this Masterpiece Theater production is 4 hours long, so there's much more room for storytelling than the typical 90 minute treatment.  Alex Kingston is terrific as Moll, preserving Moll's combination of scheming and charm.  We also get an early screen appearance of Daniel Craig, 10 years before he became James Bond.  The other performances are excellent as well.

Moll, born to a convict in Newgate Prison, is separated from her mother at birth, and ends up being raised by a wealthy family.  She wants to be a gentlewoman, but, given the cultural milieu, her only means to do so is to marry a gentleman.  As one of the sisters with whom she lives says, without money, she is nothing; even with her exceptional beauty, no man of means would consider marrying her without money.  So she treats her pursuit of men as a business transaction, presenting herself as a woman of means while seeking men of means, while acknowledging that her only assets are her beauty and wit. 

One strength of this version is the emphasis placed on her internal moral struggles.  Faced with a moral dilemma, she repeatedly chooses the practical over the right.  Given the choice between virtue with poverty, and sin with prosperity, she chooses the sin.  She almost flippantly and amusingly weighs the options, often speaking to the camera, reality TV style.  At one point, after she starts stealing to make her living, she prays about her choices.  She wonders, given that we should pray, "Lead me not into temptation," why God places temptations all around her?  I wonder, even with the limitations of the station of her birth, if choosing the good would not have led her to a more stable, fulfilling life.

Like the novel, the movie presents a vivid picture of life in the 18th century.  The sets, costuming, and oveall atmosphere are all very effective.  Given the time limitations of the medium, this production faithfully tells Defoe's story in a way that's more engaging and entertaining than the book.

Bottom line, 3 stars.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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