The Scarlet Letter (1995 film)

The Scarlet Letter

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Roland Joffé
Produced by Roland Joffé
Andrew G. Vajna
Screenplay by Douglas Day Stewart
Based on The Scarlet Letter by
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Music by John Barry
Cinematography Alex Thomson
Edited by Thom Noble
Distributed by Buena Vista Pictures
Release dates
  • October 13, 1995 (1995-10-13)
Running time
135 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $46 million[1]
Box office $10,382,407[1]

The Scarlet Letter is a 1995 American romantic drama film. It is a film adaptation of the Nathaniel Hawthorne novel of the same name. It was directed by Roland Joffé and stars Demi Moore, Gary Oldman, and Robert Duvall. This version was "freely adapted" from Hawthorne[2] and deviated from the original story. It was nominated for seven Golden Raspberry Awards at the 1995 ceremony, winning "Worst Remake or Sequel."


It is 1667 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and an uneasy truce exists between local Puritans and their neighbours, the Algonquian. Chief Metacomet (Eric Schweig) succeeds his father Massasoit as head of the latter just as a new colonist, Hester Prynne (Demi Moore) arrives overseas from England. As Hester waits for her husband - who is due to follow shortly after - she falls for a young minister, Arthur Dimmesdale (Gary Oldman). When it emerges that Roger Prynne has likely been killed by Native Americans, they become inseparable lovers.

Finding herself pregnant with Dimmesdale's child, Hester is imprisoned for her indiscretion. The minister intends to declare his sin and face execution, but Hester convinces him otherwise. Sentenced to wear a scarlet "A" for adultery, Prynne is ostracized by the public, and a drummer boy charged to follow her whenever she comes to town. Meanwhile, Hester's husband (Robert Duvall) resurfaces, having spent his absence in captivity as a prisoner of war. Learning of the scandal, he adopts the fictitious guise of "Dr. Roger Chillingworth" and begins seeking out her paramour.

The physician eventually murders a male settler leaving Hester's home and scalps him in an effort to implicate Algonquian warriors. Infuriated by this atrocity, the colonists declare war on the Indians and Roger, distraught by the severe consequences of his action, promptly commits suicide. Hester is nearly hanged with other undesirables in the ensuing outrage, but Dimmesdale saves her neck by confessing that he is the father of her child. As he takes her place on the gallows, the Algonquian attack Massachusetts Bay; both sides sustain heavy casualties. The Puritans are more concerned with concealing the conflict from England than harassing Hester any further; she finally abandons her scarlet letter and departs with Dimmesdale for Carolina.



Shelburne, Nova Scotia waterfront showing grey paint finishes applied for the 1995 film.

The film was shot in British Columbia on Vancouver Island, in and around Campbell River (Beaverlodge Lands—now Rockland Road and North Island College/Timberline Secondary, Lupin Falls and Myra Falls in Strathcona Provincial Park, Little Oyster River, and White River), and in the Nova Scotia towns of Yarmouth, Shelburne, and in the small village of Saint Alphonse in Clare in 1994. In Shelburne, the waterfront area was substantially altered to resemble a Puritan New England town in the mid-17th century. Some of the buildings on Dock Street retain the grey-tone paint finishes used for the film.


Three original scores were written for this film. The first score was composed by Ennio Morricone and was quickly rejected. A second score was composed by Elmer Bernstein, but his music was set aside in lieu of the final score, composed by John Barry. Reportedly, star Demi Moore wanted a score by Barry from the start, so Morricone's and Bernstein's music were not going to be accepted, regardless of quality.

Barry's score was released on CD by Sony Records upon the film's release in 1995. A CD of Bernstein's rejected score was released by Varèse Sarabande in 2008. No recordings of Morricone's score have been released to the public.


The film drew negative reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a 14% approval rating, based on 35 reviews.[3] It won the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Remake or Sequel and was nominated for Worst Actress for Demi Moore (lost to Elizabeth Berkley for Showgirls), Worst Director for Roland Joffe (lost to Paul Verhoeven for Showgirls), Worst Picture (also lost to Showgirls), Worst Screen Couple for Moore and either Robert Duvall or Gary Oldman (also lost to Showgirls), Worst Screenplay (also lost to Showgirls) and Worst Supporting Actor for Duvall (lost to Dennis Hopper for Waterworld).[4] It grossed $10.3 million against a production budget of $46 million.[5]

In response to the negative criticism, and to the new ending, Demi Moore said that the story the filmmakers were trying to tell differed out of necessity with that of the book, which she said was "very dense and not cinematic". She noted the original story might be better suited to a miniseries on television, and that the story presented in this film needed a different ending, one that did not lose "the ultimate message of Hester Prynne" that its makers were trying to convey.[6]

See also


  1. 1 2 "The Scarlet Letter (1995)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved August 15, 2011.
  2. According to the opening credits
  3. "The Scarlet Letter".
  4. "The Scarlet Letter". October 13, 1995 via IMDb.
  5. The Scarlet Letter – Box Office Data, Movie News, Cast Information – The Numbers
  6. Jeffreys, Daniel (October 7, 1995). "You don't get to be Hollywood's best-paid actress by acting coy. Just ask Demi Moore". The Independent. Retrieved February 2, 2015.
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