The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Judge Jim Thomas add up to $1.93
The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, etc. Who was born in Newgate [prison], and during a life of continued variety for threescore years, besides her childhood, was twelve year a whore, five times a wife (whereof once to her own brother), twelve year a thief, eight year a transported felon in Virginia, at last grew rich, lived honest, and died a penitent. Written from her own memorandums.
The above is the full title of Daniel Defoe's novel. That pretty much covers it. The BBC adapted the novel in 1996; BFS now re-releases their 2002 edition of The Fortunes & Misfortunes of Moll Flanders.
As is evident in the charge, Moll (Alex Kingston, Doctor Who) lived quite the scandalous life, one that in most cases would preclude much sympathy for the title character. To pull that slight-of-hand off, two things are required—a storyline that affirms the basic decency of the character, and an actor of uncommon wit and charm. Defoe, with an assist by screenwriter Andrew Davies, provides the former: being born in a prison, Moll seems to have little hope for any kind of decent life, but at a young age she gets a position as a servant in a well-to do household. As she becomes an adult, the two brothers of the household both fall in love with her. From that basic beginning stems all manner of chaos, turmoil, the vicissitudes of fate, dogs and cats living together…you get the picture. Moll is hardly a victim, but rather is trying to make the best of the situation. On occasion, Moll will have a voiceover justifying her actions; every now and then, she addresses the camera, asking what else she could have done. That bond forged with the audience is critical to the success of the movie. Defoe's plot does not shy away from the seedier aspects of Moll's life, but he takes care to establish that she is forced into certain decisions by circumstance.
This was a star-making turn by Alex Kingston, one that brought her to the attention of E.R. producer John Wells. She carries the movie effortlessly, charming characters and audience alike (The woman has beguiled The Doctor, for Gallifrey's sake). Kingston's effortless charisma makes her choices seem more palatable. Everyone else is a supporting character; even Daniel Craig as Jemmy, Moll's true love, has very little screen time, but the self-assuredness that exploded off the screen in Casino Royale is in full force here—no mean feat given the wig he has to wear. The remaining supporting players do solid work, particularly Diana Rigg (The Avengers) as the mother of Moll's third husband.
The movie is fairly true to the source material. It omits the latter part of the novel, but as the novel itself is highly episodic, like all of the earliest novels, leaving out the end of the story doesn't really hurt. Moll gradually descends into the depths of depravity, and is at length rescued, in large part due to blind luck. It doesn't make the movie bad by any means, but those looking for a more structured plot, or for Moll are likely to be disappointed.
Trivia: Two adaptations of Moll Flanders appeared in 1996, the second an American theatrical production starring Robin Wright Penn (The Princess Bride) as Moll.
The set is simply a reissue of the BFS's 2002 release (the title was first released on DVD by Anchor Bay in 1996). Video is acceptable; there isn't a lot of damage, but the image is somewhat soft and grainy. Basically, it looks like a made-for-TV movie. The audio track is clear, but somewhat thin. You can tell that this is a DVD from 2002 when you see the extras: Cast biographies and filmographies, and the full text of Defoe's novel.
Moll Flanders is a fun, romantic romp. Worth a look if for no other reason than Alex Kingston's performance—and Daniel Craig's hair.
Moll Flanders—the woman as well as the movie—are hereby found not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BFS Video
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