Crucible, The (1996 with Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder)


USA / 1996

Director: Nicholas Hytner
Writer: Arthur Miller (based on his own play)

Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder, Paul Scofield, Joan Allen, Jeffrey Jones

When Arthur Miller first wrote The Crucible as a play in 1950, its subject matter – the madness surrounding the Salem Witch Trials in 17th-century Massachusetts – was also a perfect metaphor for the anti-Communist witchhunt then sweeping America, spearheaded by the McCarthy hearings. Over 40 years on, the play lost none of its power in this lavish movie. “What the assorted artists involved in this movie adaptation have done is to fashion an excellent film from one of the great plays of modern times,” Empire wrote, adding, “After his success with The Madness of King George, Nicholas Hytner directs the stellar cast with great skill, and they do him proud.”

Daniel Day-Lewis stars as John Proctor, a farmer with a wife, Elizabeth (Joan Allen), and three children. His simple rural life, and those of his fellow villagers, is shattered when a group of local girls start playing games in the wood. Rumours about witchcraft begin to emerge, with the Reverend Samuel Parris (Bruce Davison) calling in an expert, the Reverend John Hale (Rob Campbell), for advice. One of the chief suspects is Abigail (Winona Ryder), who previously had an affair with Proctor and still pines for him.

Abigail is soon accusing Elizabeth of leading her into errant ways, and Proctor finds his wife accused of witchcraft. She’s not the only one though, and soon many of the women in the village find their lives in the balance as a series of witchcraft trials are set up. With the manipulative Abigail still trying to woo him, the all-too-human Proctor has to make a vital decision: whether to stand by the truth and be condemned, or lie and be released.

Beautifully recreating 17th-century life, The Crucible is an always-relevant warning from the pages of history. Hytner captures the hypocrisy, madness and hysteria threatening to engulf a small village and all of the performances are noteworthy. As ever with the method-acting Day-Lewis, tales arose of his dedication to his craft – for example, he learned the skills a farmer would need in those harsh times. And, although his character’s fate was tragic, Day-Lewis himself had a better time off-set: he met, and eventually married, Arthur Miller’s daughter, Rebecca.