Tuesday, May 17, 2011
THE FORTUNES AND MISFORTUNES OF MOLL FLANDERS (1996)
British actress Alex Kingston made one hell of an impression on me with her appearances as the enigmatic River Song in recent years on DOCTOR WHO, so spurred by my enjoyment of her in those I researched her filmography and found out she'd appeared in a reportedly lusty adaptation of Daniel Dafoe's 1722 novel THE FORTUNES AND MISFORTUNES OF MOLL FLANDERS. As a British friend of mine put it, "the British love 'sauce'," so I was eager to see just how saucy this bit of MASTERPIECE THEATER fodder was. Well, lemme tell you in no uncertain terms that it's the most lurid and engrossing item to appear on that show since I, CLAUDIUS originally aired, and it's loaded with Restoration-period costumed romance, humor, and surprisingly graphic sex. In short, it was not at all what I expected from MASTERPIECE THEATER.
The story, told in four episodes, is recounted by the title character (who frequently breaks the fourth wall to directly address the viewer) while she languishes in prison, awaiting her imminent date with the hangman. Born to a criminal mother in the very jail where she later ends up imprisoned, the infant Moll is taken from her mother (who is deported from England to the Virginia colonies) and spends her first eleven-or-so years raised by gypsies, after which she's adopted as a servant into the family of a pious mayor. Moll's servitude goes well enough, until she blossoms into lush young womanhood and catches the eyes of the mayor's sons. In no time, Moll embarks on what becomes an unusually epic sexual and criminal journey for a woman of the eighteenth century, initiated into carnal adventure by the elder brother, who promises to marry her when he receives his inheritance.
Moll's adventures begin in earnest. Remember, kids, this is MASTERPIECE THEATER.
Upon discovering that her first love never really intended to wed her, Moll launches a campaign to marry well, but on her won terms, and from there it's a chronicle of serial marriage and gold-digging, accented by the inevitable abandonment of the numerous children she bears (around seven by my reckoning) to her five husbands. There are numerous shakeups in Moll's level of social status and respectability, and along the way we are treated to shocking cuckoldry, the game of "Mind the Pistols," forays into professional thievery and prostitution, a poignant lesbian dalliance (that's markedly less explicit than the heterosexual encounters), by-name mentions of fellatio and cunnilingus, polygamy in that she is not actually a widow as she repeatedly claims to be, an unexpected reunion and even incest. The TV version's content is supposedly the closest adaptation of the novel to date, so I'm amazed that Dafoe got away with this kind of thing in the early 1700's.
And while Moll Flanders is indeed a woman of lusty adventures and considerable amorality, she's also a very likable character and I found myself rooting for her despite some of her more distressing actions (the repeated and quite unrepentant abandonment of her kids being the worst of it). When things are going well for her, she's very sweet, quite cute — I love her soulful eyes and out-of-control mop of hair — and an unabashedly sensual creature, and I genuinely envied all of the men whom she took to her bed. And while she always married with an eye on financial security being the goal rather than actual love, she did manage to get with one man whom she considered the love of her life: Jemmy (Daniel Craig, aka the most recent man to play James Bond), a handsome fellow who genuinely loves her. Sadly, Jemmy is in actuality deeply in debt and marries Moll for money he believes she has, and upon finding out she's penniless he leaves her after one day of marriage to become a highwayman.
Moll (Alex Kingston) and Jemmy (Daniel Craig), the self-admitted love of her life. Yes, geeks, it's River Song and 007 getting it on, the kind of thing that "fanfic" is made of.
But don't be too sad; the two meet again a few times, most notably in the funniest highway robbery scene since the BLACKADDER III episode "Amy and Amiability" (though minus anything as caustically hilarious as that episode's immortal line, "Aaah, shut up, you pregnant junkie fag-hag!").
Moll's story is a roller-coaster ride that's a women's answer to the many male rogues' adventures set during the same period, and while there's no fighting or swashbuckling, it's every bit as exciting and involving as any of those tales and a damn sight better than a lot of them. There have been other films about ladies of questionable virtue and morals taking place in those days, but this is the one I enjoyed the most, and this adaptation has gotten me interested in reading Dafoe's novel, making it one of three MASTERPIECE THEATER series to so intrigue me. (The other two were I, CLAUDIUS, which was adapted from the titular novel and its continuation, CLAUDIUS THE GOD, while the other was WHITE TEETH.)
So I heartily recommend THE FORTUNES AND MISFORTUNES OF MOLL FLANDERS, a totally entertaining (and enjoyably sexy) way to spend 190 minutes. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
After filming, Daniel Craig's wig was released into the wild, where it maimed and devoured several rustic villagers before being put down by a special task force deployed by the SAS.