- Kathy Bates as Dolores Claiborne
- Jennifer Jason Leigh as Selena St. George
- Judy Parfitt as Vera Donovan
- Christopher Plummer as Detective John Mackey
- David Strathairn as Joe St. George
- John C.Reilly as Constable Frank Stamshaw
Based on the novel by Stephen King, Dolores Claiborne is a sombre and compelling mystery headlined by a superb performance by Kathy Bates. Evocatively scored by Danny Elfman and featuring an interesting flashback structure, Taylor Hackford has created a chiller that leaves you guessing till the very end.
On a coastal town in Maine, hard-working and tough-talking housekeeper, Dolores Claiborne is accused of murdering her elderly employer Vera Donovan. The chief detective, John Mackey, heads the investigation into the suspicious death and harbours a desire to imprison the woman as he believes she murdered her abusive husband Joe 20 years ago. Soon after, Dolores’s daughter Selena arrives to support her mother. Selena is a succesful writer struggling with a drink problem and suspicious of the events surrounding both Vera’s death and her father’s. Dolores hasn’t seen her daughter for years and attempts to get through to her, even though her daughter is unsure of her mother’s plea of innocence. Through the use of a flashback structure, subtle incidents in both of the women’s lives are revealed and we begin to understand more about them and their strained relationship with each other. Is Dolores innocent of the crime? Or is she in fact a double murderer? You’ll have to watch the film to find out.
Kathy Bates, starring in her second adaptation of a Stephen King novel after her Oscar-winning role in Misery, fixes the attention and steals the show as the title character. She at first appears to be a stony, bitchy woman, but as the mystery begins to unravel, she is shown to be something quite different. She is a tough woman, wounded by life but not beaten yet and Bates embodies the worn-down but still resilient spirit of the title character effortlessly. It truly is a testament to Bates’s ability that we are never sure if Dolores is well and truly innocent of the crime until the finale. Ably supporting her is Jennifer Jason Leigh as the suspicious and sullen Selena, who is never truly convinced of her mother’s innocence but forced to confront her own painful past in the process. Christopher Plummer savours his role as a resentful but motivated detective who will stop at nothing to make sure Claiborne is imprisoned. David Strathairn, seen in flashback as the abusive husband of Dolores , helps set the secondary conflict in motion because of his menacing presence. Also seen in glowing flashback is the excellent Judy Parfitt, as the overbearing rich woman who becomes an unlikely ally to Dolores before her mysterious death. John C. Reilly also appears in a small role as a sympathetic constable investigating the case.
Visually, Dolores Claiborne creates a chilling atmosphere, shading the Maine town in which Claiborne resides in blue and grey. This is counteracted by luminous flashbacks, bathed in an almost sepia tone, showing the ugliness that lies beneath a happy facade. Danny Elfman’s melancholy score accentuates most of the scenes with a sombre and evocative expression of suspicion and delving into the shocking past of the main character for answers.
Dramatic, enigmatic and enthralling, Dolores Claiborne is a mystery that grabs you from the opening frame and refuses to let go.