Dolores Claiborne (film)

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Dolores Claiborne
Theatrical release poster
Directed byTaylor Hackford
Screenplay byTony Gilroy
Based onDolores Claiborne
by Stephen King
Produced byCharles Mulvehill
Taylor Hackford
CinematographyGabriel Beristain
Edited byMark Warner
Music byDanny Elfman
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • March 24, 1995 (1995-03-24) (United States)
Running time
132 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$13 million[2]
Box office$46.4 million (estimated)[3]

Dolores Claiborne is a 1995 American psychological thriller drama film directed by Taylor Hackford and starring Kathy Bates, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Christopher Plummer, and David Strathairn. The screenplay by Tony Gilroy is based on the 1992 novel of the same name by Stephen King. The plot focuses on the strained relationship between a mother and her daughter, largely told through flashbacks, after her daughter arrives to her remote hometown on a Maine island where her mother has been accused of murdering the elderly woman for whom she had long been a care-provider and companion.[4]

Dolores Claiborne was the second major King film adaptation to star Bates in a leading role after Misery (1990) five years earlier. The film was shot in Nova Scotia in 1994. It was a sleeper hit, grossing close to $50 million worldwide on a $13 million budget and little promotion. The film was well received by critics, with the performances of Bates and Leigh being especially praised. Kathy Bates stated in a retrospective interview that her performance as the titular Dolores was her favorite performance she had ever given.[5] In 2013, Time named the film among the top 10 greatest Stephen King film adaptations.[6]


In 1995, Dolores Claiborne works as a domestic servant for her elderly, partially paralyzed employer, Vera Donovan, in her mansion on Little Tall Island in Maine. One afternoon, the pair have a struggle and Vera falls down the stairs. After ransacking the kitchen, Dolores is caught by the mailman who sees her standing over Vera with a rolling pin. Vera dies and the local police begin a murder investigation.

Dolores' estranged daughter, Selena St. George, a successful New York City journalist who battles depression and substance abuse, reluctantly arrives in town to support her mother, despite her own doubts about Dolores' innocence. Dolores insists she did not kill Vera but the entire town have little trust as they still believe she killed her husband, Joe St. George, 18 years earlier. Detective John Mackey, who was the chief detective in his murder case, is determined to put Dolores away for life.

In 1975, Joe was an abusive alcoholic who, unbeknownst to Dolores, was also sexually abusing 13-year-old Selena. Dolores accepted the job cleaning for Vera to save money to pay for Selena's education. When Dolores discovered Selena was being molested, she went to the bank to withdraw the money so they could flee Joe's abuse, but finds Joe has stolen it. Dolores confided in Vera about the situation and Vera implied she killed her own husband, who had supposedly died in a car wreck, which Vera engineered to look like an accident. Vera's confession formed a bond between the two women and convinced Dolores to take control of her own situation.

Dolores says Vera threw herself down the stairs in an attempt to commit suicide, and then begged Dolores to put her out of her misery. Mackey refuses to believe her as Vera has left Dolores her entire fortune in a will that is eight years old, which Dolores knew nothing about. Dolores and Selena argue about Joe's abuse, which Selena has always strongly denied, and Selena storms out, leaving Dolores to fend for herself.

A flashback reveals one day when Dolores returned home from work, she told a drunken Joe she knows he stole the money and also that he molests Selena. She then provoked him into a rage and led him to fall down a well in their front yard, leaving him to die as he plunged to the stone bottom. Selena hears this story on a tape left for her by Dolores, who had foreseen her departure. While on the ferry, Selena suddenly uncovers a repressed memory of her father forcing her to give him a handjob. Realizing everything, Selena rushes back to Dolores as she is attending the coroner's inquest.

As Mackey makes a case to be sent to a grand jury in an attempt to indict Dolores for murder, Selena arrives and tells him he has no admissible evidence, he is only doing this because of his personal vendetta against Dolores, and that despite an often stormy relationship, Vera and Dolores loved each other. Realizing that the case would likely end with either a dismissal or acquittal, Mackey reluctantly drops the charges. Dolores and Selena reconcile on the ferry wharf before Selena returns home to New York.



Dolores Claiborne was filmed in Lunenburg, Mahone Bay, Chester, Stonehurst, and Digby, all in Nova Scotia, Canada.[7]

Themes and interpretations[edit]

Though typically classified as a drama and psychological thriller, some critics, such as Roger Ebert, have classified Dolores Claiborne as a horror film,[8] while it has also been identified as a Gothic romance.[4]


Film theorist Kirsten Thompson identifies the film as a melodrama, "produced by the repression of specific traumas, [in this case] domestic violence and incest."[9] According to Martha McCaughey and Neal King, the film's use of flashbacks suggest a specific narrative point of view when considering the film's themes of abuse and incest between Dolores, as well as Selena and Joe: "That all the flashbacks save one belong to Dolores tells us that not only are we watching her story; it also tells us of the unavailability of the past to Selena, and of the displacement and repression forced into play by the girl's experience of incest."[10]

The flashback scene in which Selena recalls her father's forcing her to masturbate him on the ferry has been particularly noted by critics: "Here, Selena and the viewer alike come finally to see Joe's transgressions, and by implication, to understand the truth of Dolores' tale. Throughout this scene, the perspective offered by the camera remains firmly focused on the reactions of the victim of the sexual crime."[11]

Feminist interpretation[edit]

Dolores Claiborne has been cited as a "self-consciously feminist" film that "combines the melodramatic impulse with the investigative structure of a noir crime thriller and a contemporary feminist consciousness."[12] The film has also been read as an example of a maternal melodrama that features an "idealized mother-figure" who sacrifices the needs of her own for others.[12] In the book Screening Genders, one scholar considered Dolores Claiborne and Stage Door (1937) to be the only "truly feminist" films made in Hollywood, in that they "don't cop out at the end."[13]

Britt Hayes writes of the main character, "Through Dolores, King poignantly explores the way the world often forces women into a series of compromises, and the way those small compromises have a way of stacking up to an imposing height, backing us into a corner until we have no choice but to become bitches...a woman (a wife, a mother) is emotionally and physically abused to the point where she breaks and feels she has no other option [than to become a bitch]."[14] The three main women in the story – Dolores, Serena, and Vera – each repeat, mutatis mutandis, "Sometimes being a bitch is the only thing a woman has left to hold on to."


Kathy Bates was praised by critics for her portrayal in the film.

Dolores Claiborne received generally positive reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes it has an 85% rating based on 48 reviews, with an average rating of 6.90/10. The site's consensus states: "Post-Misery Kathy Bates proves to be another wonderful conduit for Stephen King's novels in this patient, gradually terrifying thriller."[15] On Metacritic the film has a rating of 62 out of 100 based on 19 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[16]

Janet Maslin of The New York Times called it "a vivid film that revolves around Ms. Bates's powerhouse of a performance... Only after the film has carefully laid the groundwork for a story of old wounds and violent mishaps does the anticlimactic truth become apparent."[17] Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars and praised the performances of Bates and Leigh, saying: "This is a horror story, all right, but not a supernatural one; all of the elements come out of such everyday horrors as alcoholism, wife beating, child abuse and the sin of pride."[8]

Entertainment Weekly, however, gave the film a negative review, awarding it a D+ rating and saying: "This solemnly ludicrous 'psychological' thriller is like one of Hollywood's old-hag gothics turned into a therapeutic grouse-a-thon – it's Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte for the Age of Oprah."[18]

Box office[edit]

The movie debuted at number three for the week of March 26, 1995, with $5,721,920. It went on to make $24,361,867 domestically. That ranks it as the 15th-highest-grossing film based on a Stephen King novel, unadjusted for inflation.[19] Adjusting for inflation, it ranks as the 17th-highest.[20]


Kathy Bates and Jennifer Jason Leigh were nominated for the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress awards at the 22nd Saturn Awards.[7] Ellen Muth also won the Tokyo International Film Festival Award for Best Supporting Actress.

Home video[edit]

Warner Bros. released the film on Blu-ray on November 21, 2017, under the label Warner Archive Collection.[a][21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ All movies pre-2010 produced by "Castle Rock Entertainment", with few exceptions are owned by Warner Bros. Entertainment.


  1. ^ "Dolores Claiborne (1975)". AFI Catalog. Retrieved 2022-05-25.
  2. ^ "Powergrid - Dolores Claiborne". TheWrap. Archived from the original on 2017-09-23. Retrieved 2017-09-22.
  3. ^ "Dolores Claiborne (1995)".
  4. ^ a b McCaughey & King 2001, p. 149.
  5. ^ Conan, Neal (January 26, 2011). "Kathy Bates: Storefront Lawyer On 'Harry's Law'". NPR. Retrieved October 31, 2015.
  6. ^ Susman, Gary (October 18, 2013). "The Big Chills: 10 Greatest Stephen King Movies". Time. Retrieved October 31, 2015.
  7. ^ a b Beahm 2015, p. 484.
  8. ^ a b Ebert, Roger (March 24, 1995). "Dolores Claiborne". Retrieved October 30, 2015.
  9. ^ Thompson 2007, p. 3.
  10. ^ McCaughey & King 2001, p. 148.
  11. ^ Jay 2008, p. 109.
  12. ^ a b McCaughey & King 2001, p. 152.
  13. ^ Gabbard & Luhr 2008, p. 103.
  14. ^ Hayes, Britt (May 20, 2014). "On Dolores Claiborne And What It Means To Be A Bitch". Birth.Movies.Death. Archived from the original on May 17, 2015.
  15. ^ "Dolores Claiborne (1995)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 22, 2023.
  16. ^ "Dolores Claiborne". Metacritic. Retrieved 3 July 2023.
  17. ^ Maslin, Janet (March 24, 1995). "FILM REVIEW; Kathy Bates Stars as a Sardonic Murder Suspect". The New York Times. Retrieved May 14, 2018.
  18. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (April 7, 1995). "Dolores Claiborne". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved October 31, 2015.
  19. ^ "Dolores Claiborne". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on 2014-04-23. Retrieved 2012-08-12.
  20. ^ "Stephen King". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on 2016-08-22. Retrieved 2012-08-12.
  21. ^ "Dolores Claiborne (Warner Archive Collection)". Retrieved July 3, 2023.

Further reading[edit]

  • Beahm, George (2015). The Stephen King Companion: Four Decades of Fear from the Master of Horror. St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 978-1250054128.
  • Gabbard, Krin; Luhr, William (2008). Screening Genders: The American Science Fiction Film. Rutgers University Press. ISBN 978-0813543406.
  • Golden, Christopher; Wagner, Hank; Wiater, Stanley (2001). The Stephen King Universe: The Guide to the Worlds of the King of Horror. Renaissance Books.
  • McCaughey, Martha; King, Neal, eds. (2001). "Sometimes Being a Bitch is All a Woman Has to Hold Onto". Reel Knockouts: Violent Women in Film. University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0292752511.
  • Thompson, Kirsten Moana (2007). Apocalyptic Dread: American Film at the Turn of the Millennium. Horizons of Cinema. SUNY Press. ISBN 978-0791470442.
  • Weird Lullabies: Mothers and Daughters in Contemporary Film. Peter Lang AG. 2008. ISBN 978-3039118397.

External links[edit]