It's 1867 and the remote town of Kingdom Come is controlled by a single man whose mistress runs the bordello and saloon. Newcomers, including a mother and daughter and a survey team form a railroad company, threaten to change the town's fortunes.
The revamping of classic literature is becoming an increasing trend. Rarely though, does a director alter the story whilst retaining its original era. With The Claim, Michael Winterbottom has transported Thomas Hardy’s 'The Mayor of Casterbridge" from Wessex to the pioneer trail of 1869 California.
Daniel Dillon (Peter Mullen) is a man whose economic prosperity is a result of a decision he once made to swap his wife Elena (Nastassja Kinski) and daughter for a mining claim. Yet even his wealth is threatened when greedy surveyor Mr Daglish (Wes Bentley) reveals plans to build a railroad through his town. When the dying Elena arrives with their child Hope (Sarah Polley) to ask for financial assistance Dillon is forced to confront his past.
Mullen conveys a character as equally flawed as his title role in My Name is Joe, Polley (Go, Guinevere) once again communicates a dangerous vulnerability, and Bentley’s (American Beauty) Daglish is at once under-developed and hauntingly elusive.
There is no landscape more appropriate than the snow-covered Sierra Nevada to suit Michael Nyman’s penetratingly beautiful, icy score. Winterbottom unfolds the narrative primarily through images, and his characters’ screen-time is shared almost equally with the stark, surrounding wilderness captured eloquently by Alwin Kuchler's cinematography.
Thankfully, Winterbottom never loses sight of the internal landscape of the mind, the driving force behind the film and what separates The Claim from his previous, slightly heartless Hardy rendition of Jude.
Watch 'The Claim'
Wednesday 24 December, 12:00am on SBS VICELAND (NOTE: no catch-up at SBS On Demand)
Genre: Drama, Romance, Western
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Starring: Peter Mullan, Wes Bentley, Sarah Polley, Milla Jovovich, Nastassja Kinski