Mrs. Soffel (1984)


In 1901, at a Pittsburgh prison, the warden’s wife (Diane Keaton, Annie Hall) falls in love with a convicted killer (Mel Gibson, Mad Max). As the affair intensifies, the seemingly devoted wife starts developing a plan to help her lover escape from prison.

Reaction & Thoughts:

Mrs. Soffel, written by Ron Nyswaner, directed by Gillian Amstrong (My Brilliant Career and Startruck), is an interesting reenactment of a little known, but quite extraordinary criminal case that shook and baffled the nation more than a century ago. Nyswaner’s screenplay stays very close to the facts, creating a moving and sympathetic portrait of the real people who were involved in this fascinating true incident — truth is indeed stranger than fiction!

This tale could have easily been labeled as a far-fetched and totally unbelievable movie by many, if not for the fact that the plot is based on a true story. After viewing the film, I was still quite incredulous, and decided to do some research about the real characters portrayed in the movie, and to my surprise, some of the strangest scenes in the movie are accurate recreations of the events that transpired during a gloomy winter in Pittsburgh, around 1901.

Also notable is the feminist angle that Aussie director Amstrong, making her American film debut, has been able to give the story, adding emotional resonance to the plight of the title character, played with great assurance by actress Keaton. Add the compelling performances of Gibson (in one of his first Hollywood films), and Matthew Modine (Vision Quest) to the equation, and what you get is a little gem.

The cast also includes Edward Herrmann (The Lost Boys), Trini Alvarado (The Frighteners), Terry O’Quinn (The Stepfather), and Jennifer Dundas (The Hotel New Hampshire). The splendid camera work was done by Russell Boyd (The Last Wave and Picnic at Hanging Rock).

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Despite the presence of such famous actors as Keaton, Gibson, and Modine, Mrs. Soffel is a little-seen film that was a modest hit when it first debuted in movie theaters more than thirty years ago. Although the Academy overlooked Keaton’s moving performance, the Golden Globes recognized her by awarding her with a nomination for Best Actress in a Drama. Mrs. Soffel surely deserves much more attention than it has received so far. Color, 112 minutes, Rated PG-13.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s