By Sally Campbell
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The Claim: Frontiers of land rights and wrongs

This article is over 23 years, 5 months old
The Claim is a big screen adaptation of Thomas Hardy's 1886 novel The Mayor of Casterbridge, but with a difference.
Issue 1734

The Claim is a big screen adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s 1886 novel The Mayor of Casterbridge, but with a difference.

The year film transfers Hardy’s story to the mountains of California 20 years after the Gold Rush of 1849. This was a time and a place of massive transformation.

The 1849 had seen the biggest migration in history. Half a million people descended on California from around the globe as word spread of ‘gold in them there hills’.

The film opens with the incredible landscape of the Rocky mountains. ‘Pioneers’ confront harsh conditions as they attempt to build their dreams out of gold. Peter Mullan, who starred in My Name is Joe, plays Dan Dillon. Dillon is an Irish immigrant who came from nothing. He sells his wife and baby for the claim to the piece of land on which the town of Kingdom Come now stands.

Twenty years on he owns everything of value in the town. Such is Dillon’s stature that nothing happens in the town without his say-so. He is judge, jury and executioner.

But his wife and daughter turn up in Kingdom Come on the same coach as Mr Dalglish, the railroad man. The Central Pacific Railroad plans to move west. All Dillon’s certainties fall apart.

The railroads held the future of towns like Kingdom Come in their hands. If the railroad came through town, business would flourish, the town would grow and everything would move forward. If not, the town would stagnate and die.

So while the townsfolk welcome the railroad men with open arms, there is tension in the air. Dillon and Dalglish are the symbols of the old forces clashing with the new. Dillon is out of his depth.

As the film trundles towards its inevitable and tragic end, we see how the industrial revolution-modern capitalism-brought destruction even as it shunted society forward.

The themes of despair, hope, greed, guilt and redemption run throughout the whole film. The performances are all excellent and the scenery stunning, but ultimately I’d rather watch Once Upon a Time in the West.

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