Okay admit it, when you hear the title MOLL FLANDERS, you think of
that racy novel from high school. Yes, this is the same Daniel Defoe
book, but an excellent director, Pen Densham, has made it into a
marvelous character study and moving motion picture. Certainly, MOLL
FLANDERS can be a bit bawdy at times, but compared to most popular
films today, the depiction of the sex here is tame. This is cinema at
its best: great actors, stirring music, impressive sets, and an
As the story starts, Hibble (Morgan Freeman from SEVEN, THE
SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, DRIVING MISS DAISY, and GLORY among others) takes
a little girl named Flora (Aisling Corcoran) out of an orphanage. It
is his duty to read Flora the memoirs of her dying mother, Moll
Flanders (Robin Wright from FORREST GUMP), whom she never knew. Flora
is a saucy and high strung girl of about 7 who is more interested in
escaping that hearing some silly old morality tale. Hibble is just as
determined that she will listen carefully to every single word of it.
As chronicled in her memoirs, Moll lead a miserable life. Her
mother was in prison to be hanged when she was raped by a guard. They
postponed the execution until the day Moll is born. The script, which
I believe is a loose adaptation of the novel, stays with spirit of the
book and the cadence of the speech, but takes a lot of liberties. It
paints a Dickensian picture of the world that stretches credulity a
bit, but it was easy for me to suspend disbelieve. I bought the story
lock, stock, and barrel.
Moll comes to live in a religious school where the priests' fondle
her and the nuns do not believe Moll's complaints. She is a strong
willed young woman who defiantly proclaims, "I'm not going to fear any
man of flesh and blood, no matter what costume he wears." Soon she
escapes from her hellish home and in an upbeat mood reflects that,
"Hope comes to the young as naturally as the spring rains."
Moll goes to work in the charitable home of Mrs. Mazzawatti
(Brenda Fricker from A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE and MY LEFT FOOT), and they
attempt to teach her all of the social graces. Mrs. Mazzawatti's
daughters are anything but charitable, and Moll is forced to leave for
quite surprising reasons that you will never be able to guess in
Moll is next taken in at a bordello runs by a conniving madam
named Mrs. Allworthy (Stockard Channing from SIX DEGREES OF
SEPARATION). Hibble is Mrs. Allworthy's second in command. Perhaps he
would be considered her butler. At any rate, he and Moll eventually
become good friends. At first Moll just cleans the floors at the
bordello, and life is still hard for her. She is beaten there as she
has been all of her life and will be more in the future.
After a while, Mrs. Allworthy's develops an affection for Moll and
so give her some advice, "Life's terrible short girl. Give yourself
some pleasure. I'll bet you've never been kissed." Soon, she has
convinced Moll the way to riches is through prostitution. Mrs.
Allworthy makes-up (make-up by Michele Burke) the naturally beautiful
Moll to look like a circus clown and auctions off her virginity for one
hundred guineas. Moll tries to be optimistic about her life as a whore
confiding with us that, "I kept kissing frogs looking for a prince."
After that her life and Mrs. Allworthy's take many turns some for
the better and some for the worse. The story is wonderfully rich and
varied and always keeps the audience's attention. After being beaten
all of her life, she meets a gentle painter of anatomical drawings
called The Artist (John Lynch). His evil father is played by Jeremy
Brett from "The Sherlock Holmes" series on PBS as well as MY FAIR LADY
(1964). The painter hates his father and warns Moll that, "Great money
does not a great human make."
The ending of the film is somewhat of a surprise and is extremely
effective and moving. MOLL FLANDERS may produce a few natural tears.
Although I cried a little toward the end, I never found the script
The acting was nothing short of brilliant. It is hard to have a
favorite in movies of this caliber. If forced to choose, I'll go with
Morgan Freeman's performance as the best. This luminescent actor seems
incapable of anything less than a compelling performance. Although
this is not his best film, he is great in it.
Technically the movie is on par with the high quality of the
acting. In fact, even better than the acting is the script by the
director Pen Densham and the music by Mark Mancina. The music has an
extensive range from delicate and loving to large and dramatic. I
would be pleased to see this picture win many awards, but if I had to
pick one, I'd give it to Mark Mancina for the music.
The movie was filmed entirely in Ireland. The dramatic sets
(Caroline Hanania) and cinematography (David Tattersall) are gorgeous.
The snowy scenes are bleak and yet possess an inner warmth somehow thus
suggesting the possibility of hope around the next corner. The
costumes (Consolata Boyle) like the sets are lush and evocative without
ever being unbelievably ostentatious. My favorite costume is the
stern, long blue coat with the brass buttons that Hibble wears.
The director and the editors (Neil Travis and James R. Symons)
demonstrate a flawless sense of timing. The movie flows naturally and
sometimes slowly, but always with enough energy so that you remain on
the edge of your seat. Also the strong mood of the picture has to be
credited to the director who is able to fashion just the right pieces
to make it all come together.
MOLL FLANDERS is listed as running 2:49, but I think it might be a
misprint. Certainly it did seem that long. However long it is, I
would not want it edited down. The film is rated R. There is the
brutality of that era, but it is done tastefully. There is brief sex,
some nudity, but no bad language that I can remember. It would be fine
for any teenager and perhaps those a bit younger. I give this show my
top recommendation and award it ****.
Copyright © 1996 Steve Rhodes