The Scarlet Letter

on October 13, 1995 by Christine James
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   Setting the record straight from the onset, the openingcredits announce that "The Scarlet Letter" is "freely adapted" fromthe classic Nathaniel Hawthorne novel, a fact that has been muchpublicized, with star Demi Moore openly excusing the story'sHollywoodification by asserting that not many people have read thebook anyway. But, once moviegoers have accepted that this film isabout as true to its source as is "Pocahontas," they're in storefor a sweepingly romantic and formulaically fulfilling taleset in the oppressively patriarchal and staunchly religiousmid-17th century.Moore plays Hester Prynne, a well-read and outspoken pilgrimversion of a feminist. She is sent ahead to make a home in the NewWorld for her husband, Dr. Roger Prynne (Robert Duvall), whointends to follow soon. Her silence about her spouse indicates thematch isn't made in heaven, but Hester is determined to make thebest of things. When she encounters the handsome Rev. ArthurDimmesdale (Gary Oldman) here far more worthy of her affection thanin the book in a painfully overfamiliar scene (of peeking throughthe foliage at the skinnydipping love interest), a dangerous sparkof forbidden passion is ignited. The two soon fall hopelessly inlove; when a report arrives that Hester's husband is presumed deadat the hands of Indians, they finally consummate their desire.Hester's pregnancy reveals her "sin," and the resulting punishmentinflicted by the misogynistic governor and judgmental townspeopletests and ultimately strengthens the bond between theparamours.Definitely skewed to a female demographic, "The Scarlet Letter" isnot flawless storywise but, despite a few flinchingly cinematizedscenarios, the film is still easy to get caught up in due to theintense passion it generates, thanks mostly to an intoxicatinglyromantic portrayal on Oldman's part, making this the thinkingwoman's filmic romance novel.    Starring Demi Moore, Gary Oldman and Robert Duvall. Directed and produced by Roland Joffe. Written by Douglas Day Stewart. A Buena Vista release. Romantic drama. Rated R for violence and sexuality. Running time: 135 min.
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