- Daniel Day-Lewis as John Proctor
- Winona Ryder as Abigail Williams
- Paul Scofield as Judge Thomas Danforth
- Joan Allen as Elizabeth Proctor
- Bruce Davison as Reverend Samuel Parris
- Rob Campbell as Reverend John Hale
Scripted by Arthur Miller from his acclaimed play and directed with fervent energy by Nicholas Hytner, The Crucible captures a palpable atmosphere of fear and hysteria during the Salem Witch Trials. Powerfully acted and emotionally intense, it makes for memorable viewing.
1692 Salem, Massachusetts. In the early hours of the morning a group of girls sneak into the woods for a strange ritual with a Barbadian slave, Tituba. The gathering appears innocent enough, with the girls wishing for various boys in the village to love them by scattering offerings into a pot. One of the girls, Abigail Williams, wishes her former employer who put an end to her affair with her husband,dead and kills a chicken. This causes the girls to whip up a frenzy by wildly dancing and chanting. They are then discovered by Abigail’s uncle, Reverend Samuel Parris. Then eerily, two of the girls involved fall into deep comas and gossip spreads like fire through the puritanical village that it is the devil’s work and that witchcraft is involved. Panicking, Abigail claims that Tituba was working with the devil and that it possessed the group. It is here that events take a sinister turn, as Abigail realises the power that she wields. She, influencing the other girls, begin to name member of the village they ‘saw’ practicing witchcraft. One of those named is Elizabeth Proctor, the good wife of John who had the affair with Abigail when she was a servant. Mass hysteria ensures as more names are accused and the village begins to tear itself apart with fear and uncertainty. Caught up in this commotion are John, who realises how much trouble is being caused as a result of Abigail’s lies, his saintly wife, the judge who has the difficult decision to make and Abigail, the instigator of this hysteria.
Nicholas Hytner should be praised for conjuring up an atmosphere of religious fear and panic as the residents turn on each other and the village takes on an almost mob mentality. What he excellently captures is the snowball effect of lies and how the word of one person, without a shred of proof, can have a corrupting influence on those around whose minds are clouded with uncertainty. Arthur Miller, writing from his own play, cleverly shows the parallels between the trials and the McCarthy era witch hunts in the time the play was written. The musical score is exceptionally used to highlight the divided and fearful emotions as the narrative plays out.
What really makes The Crucible compelling viewing is the cast assembled. Daniel Day-Lewis as John Proctor turns in a typically intense performance as his character begins to see the repercussions of his dalliance with the spiteful Abigail. As the catalyst of the story, Winona Ryder is manipulative, conniving and wounded as the vixen like Abigail, who is out for vengeance as she still carries a torch for John. Her feverish emotions are a particular highlight as we watch her manipulate the village and point the finger at the innocent people with a mendacious fervour. Paul Scofield is one of the highlights from the supporting cast, making his judge character a powerful and imposing presence as he debates what to make of the mass hysteria engulfing Salem. Embodying a quiet stoicism and sincerity, Joan Allen shines as the innocent Elizabeth, the one who incurred the wrath of Abigail and is now seeing what the lying girl is capable of. Bruce Davison and Rob Campbell appear as just some of the many caught up in this circular time of fear and blaming. The only quibble I had with The Crucible is that sometimes the pacing lulls and the narrative slows. But when the story hits the emotional heights it really soars as a dramatic study of fear, vengeance and unforseen consequences.
Powerfully, emotionally raw and at times disquieting, The Crucible is an excellent adaptation of an acclaimed play that boasts terrific performances and the right amount of period atmosphere.