In the late 1990s, it was hard to find anyone who didn’t place The Shawshank Redemption in their list of top five favourite films.
All this is somewhat surprising, because initial interest was tepid. By the end of its screen run, The Shawshank Redemption had made $28m. Compare that to the other character driven drama of 1994, Forrest Gump, which made $330m.
Such was the appeal of this modern day masterpiece, that it always seemed slightly incongruous with the other movies around at the same time. It’s tight, emotionally charged narrative appeared better placed to the movies of the 50s, 60s or early 70s, instead of sandwiched between kids epics (The Lion King), scatterbrained humour (The Mask, Dumb and Dumber) and inventive action (Speed, True Lies).
So why has The Shawshank Redemption taken on such legendary status? The story began as Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption, a short story by Stephen King, a tale well outside his usual penchant for horror and mystery. Unless you’d read Different Seasons (the collection of stories where this can be found), this fact was largely kept quiet from the audience. A wise decision, as many might have considered it either another scare-fest (The Shining, Carrie) or else, another book-to-screen flop in the style of Pet Semetary, Maximum Overdrive or The Dark Half.
We meet Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), a banker from Maine, who is arrested for the murder of his wife and her lover, and sentenced to life at Shawshank State Penitentiary. Innocent of the crime, Andy sets about defying the brutal, authoritarian and cruel management of the prison in a calm yet considered way. With the help of Red (Morgan Freeman), the prison’s black market expert, Andy finds ways to work for the benefit of himself, his fellow inmates and the cruel prison staff, in an ever-changing prologue to his ultimate escape.
Director Frank Darabont – who followed this up with another Stephen King adaption, The Green Mile, and went on to create The Walking Dead – manages to squeeze every little bit of emotion from the human spirit, leaving us enthralled, engaged and emotional wrought after two hours. But that’s not to say that any part of this wonderful movie is depressing. Far from it, every turn for the worse is provided the titular redemption it requires. By the end, no emotional stone is left unturned, but we do not feel sad. We feel like we have been through 40 years of redemption ourselves.
For anyone who still tips this as one of their top films, or for anyone who has never seen it, there can be fewer delights than immersing yourself into Andy Dufresne’s world once again on the big screen. The Shawshank Redemption screens for one day only at the Palace Centro Cinema on Sunday 27th September. Click here for details. Palace Centro.
Words by Colin Bushell