“The Claim” (2000)

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They were like kings.  The pioneers- they came out here when there was nothing, built these towns, and ruled them like kings.

This 2000 film is inspired by Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge; it stars Irish actor Peter Mullan, a young Wes Bentley, Nastassja Kinski (who was the title character in Roman Polanski’s Tess, another Hardy story), a very young Sarah Polley (now 30, and an award-winning director), and Russian-American model/actress Milla Jovovich.  The setting is the fictional town of Kingdom Come in the Sierra Nevadas (a mountain range) of Northern California, though the film was shot in Colorado and Alberta, Canada.  It is 1869, and Mr. Dillon (Mullan) serves as mayor, peacekeeper, and is the wealthiest man in town. 

Daniel Dillon (Peter Mullan)
Daniel Dillon (Peter Mullan)

The story opens with a group of newcomers arriving in small town of Kingdom Come, including several prostitutes, a crew of men from the Central Pacific Railroad led by engineer Mr. Daglish (Bentley), and two respectable and pretty ladies from back East- ailing widow Mrs. Burn (Kinski) and her daughter Hope (Polley). When a man insults Hope, Daglish defends her honor.  Hope is affected by his kindness.  The railroad men are given a warm welcome at the town’s main attraction- The Paradise Saloon, where Daglish is intrigued by Lucia (Jovovich), a tall, Portuguese beauty who sings and manages the place.  But Lucia is also involved in a long-term relationship with Dillon based on mutual needs.   

Hope Burn (Sarah Polley)
Hope Burn (Sarah Polley)

Mrs. Burn simply refers to Dillon as “a rich relative.”  But in a flashback, we learn that many years ago, Dillon (a young, drunken, and disenchanted ‘49er) sold his young wife Elena and infant daughter to another prospector.  That man gave Dillon his claim to a gold mine in return.  Now Dillon wants to “make things right” by reunting the family.  In one memorable scene, he has a team of men pull his new house closer to town (to be near his love). 

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While Dillon is absorbed with his personal life, Daglish and his men survey the valleys nearby to determine where to lay track for the railroad.  Their work is important, but also very dangerous, as we discover in another memorable scene. Hope’s feelings for the engineer become stronger as they spend more time together.  However, Daglish also feels a strong attraction to Lucia.

Daglish and Lucia dance at Dillon's wedding

Mrs Burn/Mrs Dillon (Nastassja Kinski)

Though he is a man of few words, Dillon loves Elena; he tries to improve her health by using the latest technology.  Dillon is deeply affected by things going on around him, but he hides behind his gruffness.  Hope and Lucia are portrayed well; they not stereotypical ladies we usually see in Westerns.  The cautious romance between Hope and Daglish is nice as well.  Wes Bentley’s large, cat-like, blue-gray eyes stand out against the snowy landscape.

Donald Daglish (Wes Bentley)

Unlike Hardy’s original story, there is no concern for appearances or societal conventions.  Kingdom Come is populated with people of many backgrounds, races, and levels of respectability.  They all interact with each other as needed.  The town’s growth and survival depends on the railroad coming through.  But if this occurs, Dillon will no longer be able to rule the town as he pleases.

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Goodbye Lil and Anoop!!!

Hey readers (esp. Idol fans):
Are you UPSET about this!?  I certainly am!  This shows us (once again) that natural ability doesn’t ALWAYS make you a winner.  That’s just plain sad.  Matt and Kris would’ve been gone, if it were up to me.  I’m glad that Allison got to stay- she has a LOT of skill w/ her voice.  I hope Adam can win it all- like Randy said, he’s ready NOW for a career.  Go Adam!!!
All the best,
EMMA.
After Lil leaves, Anoop and Allison wait.
After Lil leaves, Anoop and Allison wait to see who's out next (WED).

 

Aww... Anoop's turn is up!
Aww... Anoop's turn is up!
Anoop sings "Dim all the Lights"
Anoop sings "Dim all the Lights"
Anoop takes losing like a champ (wouldn't expect less)!
Anoop takes losing like a champ (wouldn't expect less)!

“The Mayor of Casterbridge” (2003)

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Are some actions simply unforgivable?  Can someone truly change his/her nature?  These are the central questions posed in The Mayor of Casterbridge, a very engaging A&E miniseries from 2003.  The stars are: intense/commanding Ciaran Hinds (Persuasion; Jane Eyre), handsome/charming James Purefoy (Vanity Fair; Rome), unconventional/poised Jodhi May (The Last of the Mohicans; Daniel Deronda), and mysteriously pretty Polly Walker.  It is an adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel; it follows the book very closely (as several viewers/readers noted on IMDB).  Everything is top-notch in this film: acting, pacing, costumes, and music (creating the right mood for Hardy, but is never too much).     

 If you thought the premise of Tess was a shocker, check this out!  At a country fair, jobless/angry/drunken Daniel Henchard (Hinds) sells his wife and baby daughter for a few coins.  When he sobers up, he can’t believe what he’s done.  He runs into a chapel, grabs the Bible, and swears to not drink for 21 years.     

About 19 years later, Henchard’s wife Susan (Juliet Aubrey) and her grown-up daughter, Elizabeth Jane (May) set out to find him.  Susan says she is a widow and refers to her husband as “a relation by marriage.”  She is shocked to learn how “high” he has become when they reach Casterbridge; Susan spies Henchard (wearing the mayoral robe and medal) inside his fine house.  The mayor sees the ladies also, and decides to take action to make up for the “terrible deed.”        

 

Farfrae (James Purefoy), the optimistic Scotsman the mayor confides in.
Donald Farfrae (James Purefoy)

 

On the same night that his family comes to town, Henchard meets an optimistic Scotsman, Donald Farfrae (Purefoy), who has developed a technique to restore bad grain.  The mayor persuades Farfrae to become his manager, and he also confides in the younger man.  Later on, Henchard grows terribly jealous of Farfrae- an even-tempered, fair-minded man (unlike the mayor).  Just as in Hardy’s other works (i.e. Far from the Maddening Crowd, Jude the Obscure, and Tess of the D’Urbervilles) you will find lies, mysterious letters, sudden revelations, strong females, and a lot of drama. There are secrets at every turn in this story, so check it out for yourself!