“The Claim” (2000)


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). 


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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