This Canadian/British movie came out in 2000 and is the creation of director Michael Winterbottom. Winterbottom adapted Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure previous to this movie and this film is inspired by Hardy’s classic novel The Mayor of Casterbridge. Keep in mind that it is only “inspired” as it is very different than the novel as The Claim is set in 1869 in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California during the gold rush days.
The story starts out with an unsuccessful miner plodding through the snow with his wife and newborn child during a blizzard when they come upon a cabin and are given shelter by a successful miner. The successful one trades his mine for the unsuccessful miner’s wife and child.
We then pick up the story years later when the mother (played by Natassia Kinski) is dying and visits the rough-hewn mining town her now rich ex-husband built. She has brought her now grown daughter Hope with her (played by Sarah Polley). The daughter doesn’t know that the man who raised her really is not her father and that Dillon (played very well by Peter Mullan) is her natural father. Dillon has a mistress (played by Milla Jovovich), which he leaves to re-marry his wife who then shortly thereafter dies. His daughter leaves because she has fallen in love with a railroad engineer (played by Wes Bentley) who is building a railroad line through the area. When she leaves, Dillon wanders off and suicidally dies in the cold snow. The whole movie is shot in the snow so it takes on a cold, bitter, and bleak dimension in part because of this.
The moral is a fairly straightforward one: The father sold the family he loved for gold. The daughter learned from her mother never to let go of what you love. So she does the opposite of what her father did and she rejects the riches of her father to start a life with the man she loves.
The movie delivers the message well. The acting and directing are well executed. The movie was shot in Alberta, Canada and Colorado. But what I am left with is the feeling that some ideas are really best expressed through the written word. I would vote for your reading the Hardy novel rather than watching the movie.
Could the movie have captured more of the power of the novel? Perhaps, but that is unlikely. It was a tough novel to try to bring to the screen and changing the time and location of the events doesn’t make it easier to do so.