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The Scarlet Letter is a 1995 American film adaptation of the Nathaniel Hawthorne novel of the same name. It was directed by Roland Joffé and stars Demi Moore, Gary Oldman, and Robert Duvall. This version was "freely adapted" from Hawthorne and deviated from the original story. Universally panned by critics, the film was also a box office bomb. It was nominated for seven Golden Raspberry Awards at the 1995 ceremony, winning "Worst Remake or Sequel."
In the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1667, there is an uneasy truce between Puritans and Algonquian. Metacomet (Eric Schweig) becomes the tribe's new chief after the death and cremation of his father Massasoit. Hester Prynne (Demi Moore) arrives overseas from England, seeking independence. She waits for her husband, befriending Quakers and setting up a home. As time passes, she falls for a young minister, Arthur Dimmesdale (Gary Oldman), who feels the same way about her. When they hear the news that her husband has most likely been killed by Native Americans, they engage in a relationship. When she becomes pregnant, Hester is imprisoned for her indiscretions. Dimmesdale visits Hester in prison, telling her that he would declare himself the father, but Hester begs him not to. Hester tells him that she could not see the man she loved hang, for they did nothing wrong. Hester's daughter is then born in prison, and later Hester is publicly humiliated by being forced to wear a scarlet "A" for adultery. A drummer boy is ordered to follow her whenever she comes to town.
On the same day, her husband reappears with Indians, after a year's absence. Going by the name of "Dr. Chillingworth", he stirs fears of witchcraft, while seeking out Hester's lover in order to exact his revenge. As his plans are done, he attacks and scalps a man riding to town from Hester's house, disguised as Indian. Once the villagers discover this cruelty, they blame it on the Indians and bring them all to a public place to judge them. Seeing this scene, Hester's husband understands his fault and its severe results. He hangs himself in his room.
When the minister wants to talk to him, he discovers his dead body hanging from the roof of the room. He runs back to town and offers his throat instead of Hester's, admitting that he is the father of the child. When he is about to be put to death, the Indians save him and Hester, and a battle between them and the villagers starts. Both sides sustain heavy casualties, with no clear winner. Later, after visiting Hester's husband's grave, the three leave on a horse-driven buggy after Hester abandons her scarlet letter, and Pearl, who had been playing with it, drops it on the ground.
Then finally before the end credits, Pearl reveals that her father dies before she becomes a teenager and that Hester never remarried.
- Demi Moore as Hester Prynne
- Gary Oldman as Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale
- Robert Duvall as Roger Chillingworth
- Robert Prosky as Horace Stonehall
- Roy Dotrice as Rev. Thomas Cheever
- Joan Plowright as Harriet Hibbons
- Larissa Laskin as Goody Mortimer
- Amy Wright as Goody Gotwick
- Tim Woodward as Brewster Stonehall
- Dana Ivey as Meredith Stonehall
- Sheldon Peters Wolfchild as Moskeegee
- Eric Schweig as Metacomet
- Kristin Fairlie as Faith Stonehall
- Sarah Campbell as Prudence Stonehall
- Kennetch Charlette as Tarratine Chief
- Jodhi May as Voice of Pearl
The film was shot in British Columbia on Vancouver Island, in and around Campbell River (Beaverlodge Lands—now Rockland Road and North Island College/Timberline Secondary, Lupin Falls and Myra Falls in Strathcona Provincial Park, Little Oyster River, and White River), and in the Nova Scotia towns of Yarmouth and Shelburne in 1994. In Shelburne, the waterfront area was substantially altered to resemble a Puritan New England town in the mid-17th century. Some of the buildings on Dock Street retain the grey-tone paint finishes used for the film.
Three original scores were written for this film. The first score was composed by Ennio Morricone and was quickly rejected. A second score was composed by Elmer Bernstein, but his music was set aside in lieu of the final score, composed by John Barry. Reportedly, star Demi Moore wanted a score by Barry from the start, so Morricone's and Bernstein's music were not going to be accepted, regardless of quality.
Barry's score was released on CD by Sony Records upon the film's release in 1995. A CD of Bernstein's rejected score was released by Varèse Sarabande in 2008. No recordings of Morricone's score have been released to the public.
The film was met with an overwhelmingly negative reception. It was universally panned by critics, with a 14% approval rating on popular review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes based on 35 reviews. It won the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Remake or Sequel and was nominated for Worst Actress (Moore), Worst Director, Worst Picture, Worst Screen Couple (Moore and either Duvall or Oldman), Worst Screenplay and Worst Supporting Actor (Duvall). It was also a box office bomb, grossing only $10.3 million out of a $50 million budget.
In response to the negative criticism, and to the new ending, Demi Moore stated: "In truth, not very many people have read the book. The ultimate message of Hester Prynne would have been lost if we'd stayed with the original ending."
- The Scarlet Letter at Box Office Mojo
- San Francisco Chronicle review
- Reading Hawthorne in a gender-biased academy (refers to this film version)
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