Dolores Claiborne (Taylor Hackford, 1995, USA)

Dolores Claiborne sits firmly in the "prestige" era of King adaptations when Rob Reiner turned the master of horror into a sign of awards season prestige. Coming one year after The Shawshank Redemption, and also produced by Reiner's Castle Rock Entertainment, Dolores Claiborne finds Kathy Bates returning to the King universe as the titular character. Based on a first-person novel written during King's feminist phase (along with Rose Madder and Gerald's Game, the latter to which King's novel is linked), Dolores Claiborne tells the story of a housemaid living on a remote island off of Maine's coast during the 1960s and 1970s, and her estranged daughter's return to her during the present day.

Expanding the universe of the novel beyond solely Dolores' perspective, the film's screenplay by Tony Gilroy noticeably enhances the role of Dolores' daughter Selena, here played by Jennifer Jason Leigh. Their reunion plays a much bigger part in the film than it does in the novel, and provides the emotional core of the story. Rounding out the cast is David Straitharn as Dolores' abusive husband Joe, Christopher Plummer as Detective John Mackey, and John C. Reilly as the local constable. The bits of the film involving Plummer's character, despite the best intentions, somehow feel the most forced.

Bates shines in what is essentially an elevated "woman's picture" from the 1950s, something a director like Douglas Sirk might have put to screen in that decade. Taylor Hackford's direction is workmanlike, though there are enough flourishes here and there to make things interesting. The use of color and a highly artificial background during the scene of Joe's death is quite imaginative - this scene is perhaps the highlight of the film. Dolores Claiborne, while not among the greatest of King adaptations, is certainly probably the best adaptation that could have been made from King's novel.



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