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The Crucible (1996) -- a Movie Review Starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder

Updated on December 2, 2014

On the way to the stake...

A depiction of the Salem witch trials
A depiction of the Salem witch trials | Source

Engaging movie with rich historical production values and plenty of heart-wrenching drama

5 stars for The Crucible (1996), with Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder
The Crucible
The Crucible

Ready for superstition, jilted lovers and witch hunts in New England? Watch the reviewed version of Arthur Miller's play based on the Salem Witch Trials right now through Amazon.


During the 17th century, the shocking discovery of widespread witchcraft rocked the small town of Salem -- or did it? In The Crucible, Arthur Miller dramatizes the events of the Salem witch hunts and their tragic result, giving us a close-up look of the kind of justice dished up through superstition and a healthy dose of jealousy.

About The Crucible

Set in a time of land disputes, bitter rivalries, and disagreements over the town priest, a man is called to "root out evil" in Salem. This terrible evil has already caused two young girls to fall asleep and not wake. A band of girls led by Abigail Williams (Winona Ryder) confess to practicing witchcraft, and so are pardoned by virtue of their confession. As repentant sinners, the girls become instrumental to the investigation, helping point out the Devil -- and the places or people to which he clings. Once identified as the Devil's minions, the individual in question must confess to witchcraft. Failing to acquire the absolution that comes from being remorseful enough to admit his or her sins, the person will be executed by hanging.

Of all the townspeople, only one feels safe enough to question the girls and their true motives. John Proctor (Daniel Day-Lewis) had an "inappropriate relationship" with Abigail Williams. Because she still fancies herself in love with him, she doesn't dare accuse Proctor of being in league with the Devil. He must find a way to make the investigators see the truth, and fast. Based on the girls' selfish and trouble-making confessions, the only devout Christians among the accused are put to death for their refusal to confess.

Why do you want to see this version of The Crucible? Read on

Most people know the story of The Crucible, even if it was only required reading at school. Arthur Miller himself furnished the screenplay, of course, but also acted as adviser to director Nicholas Hytner on the making of this film. Check out this trailer to help you get a feel for the movie, then continue reading below for my own impressions on the 1996 version of The Crucible:

Cast and crew of the 1996 version of The Crucible

The first thing I must applaud about this film is the casting. Winona Ryder played the best Abigail Williams imaginable -- before the second scene, one already feels the overwhelming desire to reach through the screen and choke her for her remorseless, selfish actions. Opposite her stands Elizabeth Proctor, the long-suffering wife of John Proctor played by Joan Allen. Allen keeps almost a regal air about her while playing the blameless, but somewhat outspoken and strict Goody Proctor.

Let's not forget the secondary characters in the background. Though largely unknown and possibly unnoticed by many is Karron Graves, who plays the role of Mary Warren. Of all the people playing children and young adults in this movie, Graves out-shined all of them, with the possible exception of Ryder. Note, I said that Ryder is the POSSIBLE exception; yes, Graves did that well in her role. Having seen this performance, it's actually rather surprising to me that Graves hasn't found more screen credits, having only very minor movie roles and a few television series credits in her resume with little else. Granted, it is possible that her talents have limited application, but this must be the perfect way to show them. In the movie, Mary Warren spends most of her time in turns worried, scared to death, or pretending hysteria. The calmer facets of a character were only glimpsed, but it still hinted at an impressive range from such a relatively inexperienced actress.

An artist's rendition of witch trials with the infamous burning at the stake. The scene in The Crucible varies only by method of execution.
An artist's rendition of witch trials with the infamous burning at the stake. The scene in The Crucible varies only by method of execution. | Source

Rounding out the cast are a number of fairly well-known actors such as Bruce Davison, Paul Scofield, Frances Conroy, Charlayne Woodard, and Peter Vaughan among others. Because of the nature of the play, little is seen of the other characters except, of course, Daniel-Day Lewis' John Proctor. It can be said that the minor performances adhered well to the original screenplay, but it's hard to comment much on talent when we don't see much of them. As for Daniel-Day Lewis, he is possibly the best choice for the tortured John Proctor imaginable, and it's easy to believe that Arthur Miller himself may have had a say in the casting.

The Crucible (1996) setting and background

The setting is a very convincing 17th-century Massachusetts, though it's sometimes hard to reconcile the behaviors of the girls to the times in which they were living. That said, The Crucible is a tale of hysteria and "repentant demon worshipers," so it's very likely that they were intended to act entirely unlike proper girls of the time.

Overall, this was a very well-done version of Arthur Miller's play with a cast full of unforgettable characters. Some are haunting in the way they met their demise, while others are all too easy to hate. The truly heart-wrenching end is done with a dramatic flair that may have you reliving it in your mind for days afterward. This is definitely an excellent movie that might even help foster an appreciation for Miller's work in the ranks of bored high school students that have it shoved down their throats as required study. If you already love Miller's work, or enjoy a well-done historical drama, then you won't want to miss this version of The Crucible.

I hope this has been helpful to you, and thank you for taking the time to read. Have you already seen this version of The Crucible? Please feel free to take a moment to leave a comment about your own take on the movie. See something I missed, or have other recommendations for admirers of Arthur Millers work? I'd love to read your comments. Thank you for your time.


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    • wychic profile image

      Rebecca Mikulin 8 years ago from Sheridan, Wyoming

      The Crucible is a bit less obvious than The Craft as far as witchcraft goes, but it goes a long way to show New England superstition from 100-200 years ago. I'm glad you like my reviews :), hopefully I'll be getting a lot more of the movie reviews over here soon, it's been taking me a while to shift all my articles to where I want them :D.

      I haven't read the HorrorScope hubs yet, but I certainly will very soon, they sound like something I'd definitely be interested in. Also, I haven't forgotten the legends yet, I've been short on time lately but I'll be sure to get a couple posted from my part of the world :).

    • fierycj profile image

      fierycj 8 years ago from The Fiery Heart of Africa

      I love movies about Witchcraft. The Craft was so well done and original. I hope The Crucible is at least half as good. Your reviews are very good. When I make my movie, I want you to review it. Lol.

      p/s: Have you read my HorrorScope hubs? They're basically stories about witches and their encounters with a man named Paul Marshall.