Our rating: 3 out of 5
reviewed by Charity Bishop
A story based on the premise of a man judged wrongly by the townsmen, and his romantic attachment to the daughter of his employer, The Moth is a moderately low-budget film with a fine musical score, enough action to counter some of the quieter moments, and an excellent cast compiled of faces now-familiar to American audiences through Hollywood cinema. Robert Bradley (Jack Davenport) is a fine craftsman, but works at the docks as a shipbuilder in order to keep his family independent. After the death of his father, Robert agrees to become his uncle's apprentice in the furniture-making business. The two brothers were estranged by a fondness for the same woman, and this is the proverbial olive branch.
At first they get along moderately well, even though Robert's uncle is of a predominately "religious" constitution, and his nephew is a free-thinker with no room in his evaluations for God. The industry is peaking and the countryside is beautiful. Robert also has the attentions of a lovely local girl, and the would-be interest of his cousin Carrie. But his real distraction lies in the innocent beauty of a young girl he came upon one night while walking home. Millie (Justine Waddell) is the mentally-adrift daughter of a local wealthy landowner, and the townspeople call her "the moth" because of her passion for "flitting about at night." Millie's older sister Sarah (Juliet Aubrey) is primarily responsible for her care, since their mother is ailing of heart failure and their father is an idle gentleman with a penchant for loose women and gambling debts. The household is far from a happy one. Mr. Thorman wants to place Millie in a "home," while his wife and eldest daughter are adamantly against it.
When their mother dies suddenly, the household is left in pandemonium. Debts are mounting, the house staff are unhappy, and Father is threatening to be rid of Millie and marry his mistress for her money. In the meantime, at the Bradley house, things have gone from pleasant to troubling. After "taking a tumble" in the nearest hedge with a random town boy, Carrie suffers the ultimate punishment -- she's pregnant. Due to Robert's insistence they were "walking" together on the night in question, he is blamed. Refusing to bear the brunt of another man's responsibility, he refuses to marry Carrie and is cast out from the house. Unwilling to return to the shipbuilding industry, Robert seeks employment with the Thormans. But his reputation as a "ladies' man" has proceeded him, and Sarah in particular regards him with mistrust.
What he finds is a household badly in need of compassion. Millie adores him, the staff soon come to like him (all except the troubled Walters, played by David Bradley), and their fates will be entwined together through tragedy, slander, scandal, and fated romance. From this perspective, the film is a fascinating story if at times rather bleak. Performances are all memorable, Justine Waddell in particular. She makes an empathetic Millie to the point of childish delight with her puppy, to unholy terror whenever there is trouble in the house. I also enjoyed seeing Jack Davenport in a leading role; he's quite a capable actor and makes Robert both restrained and passionate. Some of his scenes are quite touching, and although he resists any faith-related sentiments, he becomes a much-liked character. The storyline is believable, though ends somewhat prematurely. It doesn't answer all our questions, but leaves a few loose ends.
As noted by the summary, The Moth does contain some mild content issues, primarily hovering around the question of fornication. Because of Carrie's unwillingness to clear his name, Robert is assumed to be the father of her child. As such, he is slandered by much of the town, who come to like him through his own merit but still show coldness when tragedy reasons he should have "just married the girl." In a way it proves how an idle rumor can not only ruin your life, but the lives around you. Even Sarah, who grows fond of Robert and eventually comes to love him, mistrusts him. She accuses him several times when comforting upset housemaids of taking advantage or trying to seduce the staff. A lot of dialogue involving sex usually comes up, though never overly graphic. At one point he tells her, "The next time I'm accused of having gotten a girl pregnant, I intend to be guilty." Sarah's brother insults the housemaid by making a joke with one of his friends that he'd have to be blindfolded to sleep with her. It turns out both Mr. and Mrs. Thorman have had adulterous affairs; Millie is the result of one of them.
We hear giggling coming from behind a hedge. Passionate kissing intrudes on occasion. On their wedding night, a woman removes her husband's jacket and they kiss romantically. The only real visual issue comes from near-nudity when Robert sits up in bed (we see almost all his backside). There is some domestic violence; Thorman slaps both his wife and daughter and attempts to convince Millie to unknowingly drown herself. A man is knocked off a bridge and killed; the accident is made to look like suicide. Two men get into a brief struggle over a woman's honor; a man's face is cut with a chisel, leaving a scar. A house is set afire with a woman trapped inside; she is rescued, but a man perishes attempting to save her, and another is badly burned. There's some strong and mild profanity (women are called "b*tches" when they don't desire to comply, there is mention of "whores" and "sluts," and general curses).
I found the story interesting but not overly wonderful. A major deterrent for me was the anti-religious message carried in the film. Carrie's father is the worst kind of self-professed Christian, showing judgment instead of mercy. He shames his daughter in front of the entire church for her "mortal sin," refuses to eat at the same table with her, and then does nothing when she has problems with her pregnancy. Robert, by contrast, has no room for God in his life and proves likable, merciful, compassionate, and willing to stand up for what's right. This single factor, as well as the many implications of promiscuity and the darker turn the story takes, gives The Moth about as much merit as a butterfly fluttering at a lamp.