The Crucible (Nicholas Hytner)

Rating: ***1/2 (out of ****)

It's about time that somebody made a film of The Crucible, Arthur Miller's brilliant and terrifying play about the Salem witch trials; most of all, I'm pleased that it happened while Miller was still alive and lucid and willing to write the adaptation himself. I've read some criticism of the film suggesting that it's outdated and irrelevant, because the play was clearly a thinly disguised allegory about McCarthyism and the Cold War is over; I can only imagine that those who find it quaint are blissfully unaware of the numerous people languishing in jail cells right now because their impressionable children were brainwashed into falsely accusing them of child abuse and -- in some cases (and I'm not making this up) -- devil worship. Yes, we're all too levelheaded and sensible these days; such mass hysteria and paranoid finger-pointing could never happen here. Twits. Where was I? Oh, yes, the movie: it's fabulous, just about as good as big-budget Hollywood star vehicles get. All that was required for it to succeed, given the quality and inherent cinematic possibilities of the source material, were a faithful but not unduly reverential screen translation and a kickass cast; Miller himself delivered the former, while Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder, Joan Allen, Karron Graves, Rob Campbell and (especially) Paul Scofield very much represent the latter. Miller's new denouement is a bit much, and Day-Lewis is a bit too staid during the first half of the picture, but those are my only quibbles; this is first-rate melodrama that's every bit as sociologically significant as it was in 1953.