Moll Flanders

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Moll Flanders - The Remarkable Story Of One Woman's Unbreakable Spirit

May 13, 2001 (Updated Apr 26, 2002)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Excellent

  • Action Factor:
  • Special Effects:
  • Suspense:

Pros:Robin Wright Penn, Morgan Freeman, Stockard Channing - Solid Performances.

Cons:Slow at times.

The Bottom Line: A chick flick where you'll feel love, loss, pain, and joy. You ARE Moll Flanders :).


Plot Details: This opinion reveals everything about the movie's plot.

Preamble
I was convinced that Robin Wright Penn's one and only good performance was in that classic, The Princess Bride. Based upon the previews, I decided to go see this in the movie theater 5 years ago. I was captivated by it and once it came out on video, I rushed out and bought my own copy.

I am a sucker for hard-luck stories. I am a sucker for period (costume) movies. Put those together, and I am ready to sit through two hours of joy and tears (along with my bucket of popcorn and box of kleenex).

Plot
Hibble (Morgan Freeman), a fellow co-worker of Moll's (Robin Wright Penn), rescues her daughter Flora (Aisling Corcoran) from an orphanage. It seems that Moll's former employer, Mrs. Allworthy (Stockard Channing), wishes for Flora to come live with her. There's a condition however. Flora must listen to every word that is read to her from her mother's (Moll's) diary so that Flora will know what a horrible woman she was. "Moll Flanders was, by her own account, a murderess, a wh*re and a thief," Hibble states in his booming voice. And don't worry, Hibble will have plenty of time to read it to her as their final destination is a trek across Europe and the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas.

Through narrative flashbacks, we learn about Moll and the life she lived.

Moll, born in a prison to a mother who was serving her sentence for stealing, never met her mother because right after her birth, her mother was hung. Moll, like many other children of prisoners, is brought up in a convent. For a time, she abides by the rules and tries to be a model person. After a priest tries to molest her, she can no longer live under these rules and she breaks out from the convent.

She soon finds housing with Mrs. Mazzawatti (Brenda Fricker). A charitable woman, she attempts to instill some social graces into Moll. Moll is a quick learner and seems to win a place in Mrs. Mazzawatti's heart. Unfortunately, her daughter's cannot deal with the attention that the spirited Ms. Flanders gets from their gentlemen callers. Through a surprising turn of events, Moll is forced to leave her second home.

The next place that Moll calls home is a bordello run by Mrs. Allworthy. Determined to remain virtuous, she becomes Mrs. Allworthy's right hand servant. Moll becomes friendly with the other girls and meets someone who will soon become a very close friend, man servant Hibble.

Over time, Moll thinks that by becoming a prostitute, she'll be able to meet a man who will love and take care of her. For awhile, Moll remains hopeful that the man of her dreams will come and sweep her off of her feet. When that doesn't happen, her spirit unravels and she seeks comfort in alcohol.

Enter a painter, the artist (John Lynch), who hires Moll for an evening so that he may paint her nude protrait. Moll is taken aback by his lack of sexual interest in her. You know what happens next, right? He becomes intrigued with her and eventually, he mends her broken spirit. Moll leaves the bordello and moves in with the artist.

Against his family's wishes, they marry and embark on a happy life together. Moll becomes pregnant and it seems that at last, she has found her happiness.

Here comes tragedy. The artist, weakened by some disease that he has had all of his life, catches small pox and dies before his only child is born.

This throws Moll's life into chaos but she vows to make a decent life for her daughter Flora. Unfortunately, through a series of bad luck moves, Moll loses her daughter and is kidnapped by Mrs. Allworthy. As they travel over to the Americas, their ship goes down and many lives are lost. Moll's diary survives and so does Hibble.

Adaptation Comment
For all of you literature buffs, this particular movie was based upon the novel by Daniel Defoe. After reading my plot synopsis, you're probably scratching your head and wondering if it's the same book you read. Nope. Moll comes off in this film as a plucky, independent spirit who was time and time again, unfairly treated. Did I forget to add that she was a perfect angel 99% of the time?

In the beginning of the film, you are reminded through the opening credits that Pen Densham (of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves fame) based the adaptation "loosely" upon the book. Just keep on thinking "loose" and you won't be so distracted by what you read in 9th grade literature class.

Writing and Directing
Admittedly, as long as you are bright, you probably caught on early that Moll was still alive and that Hibble was there to pick up her daughter in order to reunite them. It wasn't rocket science and that's okay. To me, the writing has to be able to draw me in and keep my attention. The writers succeeded.

I really enjoyed how they weaved in the current story line (Hibble and Flora) with the flashbacks of Moll's life. Flora started out very detached from her mother and through the telling of her story, she tapped into the emotional side that misses not having her mother there to love and guide her.

There were a couple of times in the movie where it seemed to slow a bit. Since the movie ran long, you would think that the director would have cut some of this out, but he didn't. I wish he would have because.....

If I had to stick my tongue out at one part of the writing and directing, it was the ending. When mother and daughter are reunited, I felt like the ending was trite and cut short. I know the movie ran long however, I would have liked to have seen something with more meat to the ending.

Acting
Robin Wright Penn does a good job of transitioning from Catholic school girl to prostitute to wife to mother. It was all a natural progression to me. Even while she progressed through these stages, she never lost her edge. She never became sweet and Donna Reed like. If you saw her in Forrest Gump, you'll see in this film that Moll displays some of that vulnerability that Jenny had. One note of improvement: There were a couple of times in the film when her accent faultered a bit however, I won't hold that against her :).

Morgan Freeman is a brilliant actor. Now honestly, I still think that his performance in Driving Miss Daisy was sheer perfection. This role is just a notch under. I loved his booming voice and his serious presence. His interaction with Aisling Corcoran was beautiful. They had some great comic scenes together that were a welcome relief from some of the heavy-handed drama. He works well with children and I would definitely like to see him do this more in the future.

I've always been in awe of Stockard Channing. Although I haven't seen her in a lot of things, I think that her acting abilities easily span a number of genres. She does a great job at playing an evil Madame. There were times that I was sympathetic for this woman, even when she was manipulating Moll and the other girls.

Aisling Corcoran was a spunky actress who I had never seen before this movie. Playing Moll's daughter, she matched Morgan Freeman's stoic seriousness without coming across as a complete brat. She was, her mother's daughter through and through. Unfortunately, I've never seen her in anything else.

The artist John Lynch was the romantic male we look all our lives for. His performance complimented Ms. Penn's rough edges. He was softer around the edges when appropriate and a little rougher when he needed to get a point across. John is one of those actors who looks familiar - you've seen him in a million things. Two other films that he did that stick out in my mind are The Secret Garden and Sliding Doors. One nice thing about John is that even though his characters are usually English, their traits are very different.

Cinematography
If memory serves me right, this was filmed entirely in Ireland. It was gorgeous. It was dark. It was beautiful. It was cruel. City life (London presumably), was bleak and harsh. Whenever Moll's character had the opportunity to go out into the countryside, I was swept away by the beauty of the green surroundings.

Music
This is the movie where I re-discovered Sarah McLachlan. Her song, Full of Grace, along with Mark Mancina's original arrangements, had me in tears. I had heard her a year earlier on the Brother's McMullen soundtrack, singing I Will Remember You. Made me a forever fan :).

Mr. Mancina's lush use of strings and winds is more than appropriate for the 18th century story line. It's as enjoyable for me to listen to as my Mozart concertos.

The End
Men will probably shy away from this movie. Women, on the other hand, will probably flock to it because in the end, the heroine ends up with every thing that is rightly hers. Bonus points if you see this during PMS week. And if you do, keep a box of kleenex - you will need it :).


Recommend this product? Yes


Viewing Format: VHS
Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older

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