Salem Witch Trials

Salem Witch Trials Cover

Book: Salem Witch Trials by Kirstie Alley

Salem, Massachusetts. A small town--with no clear governing body--became embroiled in a scandal that forever stands as one of the darkest chapters in American history. For those accused of witchcraft by their neighbors and friends, there was little chance of clearing their names; the mass paranoia that ravaged through the community took the lives of 19 innocent men and women. With an all-star cast of Kirstie Alley, Rebecca De Mornay, Kristin Booth, Shirley MacLaine, Peter Ustinov and Alan Bates, Salem Witch Trials dramatically revisits 1692 colonial America and the haunting legacy it holds.

"Salem Witch Trials" is a compelling 2003 CBS mini-series that featured many familiar and veteran actors and for the most part, stayed true to the historical events that came to be known as the Salem Witch Trials.

The mini-series begins on a rather odd note - it is right in the middle of a trial where the afflicted girls [who are the ones accusing people of witchcraft]go into hysterics and start wailing and screaming, then the accused start transforming into 'demons' [with rather striking make-up and 'flying' special effects]. Thankfully, this only lasts a couple of minutes [the production could have done without it], and viewers are taken back via flashback to six months prior where the events began.

The story focuses on the Puritans residing in the village of Salem, Massachusetts, and the year is 1691. There is no charter from England and hence, the Puritans basically govern themselves without any written law. Those who commit crimes or sins are publicly humiliated [there is a scene where women deemed guilty of sinful conduct are paraded naked whilst tied to a wagon]. The family that is the focal point in this series is the Putnam family - Ann Putnam [Kirstie Alley] gives birth to a stillborn child and is full of grief. Her husband Thomas Putnam [Jay O Sanders] is a bitter man, having lost a lot of his land and wealth to others who are more entrepreneurial. They have a son and daughter and young Annie Putnam [Katie Boland] senses the tension between her parents and finds herself being neglected, hence her desire to act out as a means of gaining attention.

The storyline is riveting and moves along at a steady but sure pace, building momentum as the horror unfolds - the acting is also solid and credible - Kirstie Alley's Ann Putnam is a conflicted and tortured soul. Her grief over her dead child causes her to turn to a village medicine woman, Bridgitte Bishop who is later accused as a witch, and this in turn causes her immense guilt [for turning 'away' from God]. She is by turns horrified and self-righteous at the situation in Salem. This is one of Alley's best dramatic performances to date. Henry Czerny's Rev Parris is credibly done, acting out the part of a so-called man of God who decries against self-interest whilst shamelessly practising it for self-preservation. Then there is young Katie Boland as Annie Putnam who incites revulsion for her performance as the misguided accuser.Rebecca de Mornay plays Rev Parris' wife who is mortified by the events in Salem and finally leaves her husband.

There are also veteran actors who have done an incredible job with their roles here - Shirley Maclaine plays the ill-fated Rebecca Nurse, one of the accused who also happens to be a pillar in society, a devout mother and elderly woman who maintains her faith and sense of humor in the bleakest of times. Peter Ustinov plays the Magistrate William Stoughton, a man so absorbed in proving the accused guilty that he never once questions his judgements. And there is Alan Bates playing Gvernor Sir William Phips, who initially acts the dandy and seems disinterested but who eventually realises something is seriously wrong in Salem.

The sets and costumes lend an authentic feel to the story, making the Salem of 1691-'92 come alive onscreen. All in all, this is a first-class production and will appeal to history buffs, educators [though with some nudity I'm not sure if it would be appropriate for classroom viewing] and period & historical drama fans.Highly recommended!

Buy Kirstie Alley's book: Salem Witch Trials

Books in PDF format to read:

John Musick - The Witch Of Salem
Friedrich Adler - The Witchcraft Trial In Moscow
Marian Green - A Witch Alone