Friday, July 10, 2009

Must Watch Friday: Last of the Mohicans

Our columnist Annie West revisits a classic adventure romance from 1992 – THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS.

Daniel Day-Lewis fans will already know this film and will be drooling at the mention of it, but I know it’s still a new film for many.

Despite the title, the film is only very loosely based on James Fenimore Cooper’s book of the same name. Thank goodness! For me, this version is so much stronger. It has one of the most memorable love stories in modern film. Expect action, passion, stoicism, adventure and poignancy. Be warned though, the story takes place in wartime so there’s violence too.

It’s set in America in the 1700s. Cora Munro (Madeleine Stowe) and her sister Alice (Jodhi May) have just arrived in the colonies and are to be escorted to their father Colonel Munro (Maurice Roeves). They head away from ‘civilisation’ with their escort of soldiers and into wild territory far removed from their previous experience. From the moment you see them in their lovely gowns and sunhats, moving through the forest, you realise their lives are about to change dramatically.

Settlers along the frontier aren’t safe as native American war parties side with either British or French troops who vie for control of the territory. The British enlist the help of local militia men who are reluctant to leave their families unprotected, and with good reason.

Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a trapper, the adopted brother of Uncas (Eric Schweig) and son of Chingachgook (Russell Means), the last of the Mohican tribe. These three refuse to assist the British and head instead towards Kentucky. On the way, they come across the Munro girls and Major Duncan Heyward (Steven Waddington), and save them from ambush. The ambush was set by Magua (Wes Studi), a native American obsessed with killing Colonel Munro and his children, in revenge for the loss of his own family. Magua’s fixation on his goal is chilling and he’s one of the best movie villains.

Hawkeye promises to take the girls to their father, despite Magua’s relentless pursuit. On the way Cora and Hawkeye fall in love. Poor Duncan, who’d aimed to marry Cora, finds himself out of his depth in the wildnerness. But once at the fort there’s no safety to be found. The British are outnumbered and face terrible bombardment. Nor is Hawkeye welcomed, despite saving the girls.

Cora: He saved us. We’re alive only because of him.
Colonel Munro: The man encouraged the colonials to desert in this very room and in my presence! Sir! He is guilty of sedition. He must be tried and hanged like any other criminal, regardless of what he did for my children.
Cora: But he knew the consequences and he stayed. Are those the actions of a criminal?

These are two people who are not meant to fall in love. The odds are against them, However, Hawkeye refuses to save himself by escaping.

Cora: They're going to hang you. Why didn't you leave when you had the chance?
Hawkeye: Because what I'm interested in is right here.

Hawkeye’s single-minded focus on Cora, teemed with his laconic ease in the worst of situations works for me! He favours actions not words. He’s his own man and determined to get what he wants (Cora), rather than be distracted by the political power struggle around him. For instance:

Duncan: There is a war on. How is it you are headed west?
Hawkeye: Well, we kinda face to the north and real sudden-like turn left.

Fortunately for Hawkeye and Cora, the execution at dawn doesn’t happen but too soon the small group are again in the wilderness being tracked by Magua and his war party. When they’re finally cornered the only way to survive is for Hawkeye and his family to escape, in the hope they’ll be able to pursue the girls and Duncan once they’re captured. Their parting is poignant and tense:

Hawkeye: No, you submit, do you hear? You be strong, you survive... You stay alive, no matter what occurs! I will find you. No matter how long it takes, no matter how far, I will find you.
And we have no doubt at all that he will find them. The intensity of this scene has to be seen to be believed.

I won’t tell you any more of the story, so you can experience it for yourself. Suffice to say it’s full of heroism, passion and tension that keeps you on the edge of your seat. The budding romance between Uncas and Alice is completely understated and yet so moving. The story of Hawkeye's adopted family is strong and moving. The performances are terrific plus the setting and the music make the film worth watching for their own sake.

If you want a story on a grand scale, about lovers fighting the biggest odds to be together, this is one for you. Their passion is beautifully shown, not in naked love scenes, but with a quiet intensity that just sizzles on the screen. This is classic romance and a great film.

Annie’s own latest romance is THE SAVAKIS MISTRESS, on sale this month in the UK and next month in Australia and New Zealand, while THE GREEK'S CONVENIENT MISTRESS is still available in online. Visit Annie's website to read excerpts or even better, celebrate her birthday this month by ordering one of her books!


  1. Fantastic choice, Annie. I love this film, and the scene under the waterfall.. Is so moving and heroic and romantic... It took my breath away.

  2. Hi, Annie!

    Ah, another movie to add to my must-see list! You've just convinced me to find time to cosy up with Daniel Day Lewis this winter.

    I have indeed celebrated your birthday month by treating myself to one of your books. Happy birthday!

    ~ Vanessa

  3. This is a film I could watch over and over and over....I remember watching it after it was first released and thinking, this is the kind of love I want. But then, I was only sixteen at the time so my head was probably still in the clouds! But it's the scene during the attack where Hawkeye mouths Cora's name and runs towards her (slow motion of course) that steals my breath everytime. And the look she gives him as she realises he is intent on saving her just about makes me cry. You have to love DDL, the intense emotion he brings to this role is astounding and makes him one of the best actors out there today.
    And what he did for Duncan made me cry buckets. Such a wonderful character and this film is definitely one of the few that has it all.
    Great choice.

    P.S And we won't even mention the haunting music, that's surely another post entirely!!

  4. It is a great movie.

    The book had such a huge impact when it was first published as well. Before LotM, Cora was not used as a girl's name but became popular.
    Allen Banks (a National Trust property)'s landscape was part inspired by LotM and the whole wildness aspect.

  5. Heidi, how great this is a fave of yours too. That scene under the waterfall is just tremendous. I get shivers when I watch it, with the danger they're in and the tension and the passion, even though I've seen it before!

  6. Ooh, Vanessa, you bought one of my books? How cheeky of me to suggest it! (G) I hope you enjoy it.

    I'm sure you'll enjoy this film. It's a stunning one, even the cinematography alone is enough to enthrall you. Definitely a good one to enjoy while snuggling up in this nippy winter weather!

  7. Aideen,

    Well, I have the soundtrack of the film so I agree with you there. And you've mentioned two of the best parts of the film for me too. That slow motion scene is amazing. And the whole episode with Duncan... What I liked about the movie, is that apart from being a brilliant love story there's so much else going on in it, and not just between Hawkeye and Cora. All those themes about heroism and sacrifice and honour. That last scene with Alice gets me every time too.

  8. Michelle,

    Yes I knew a little about the impact of the original book. Have to say though that I much prefer this version.

    It's done a good deal for the popularity of wildnerness, hasn't it?