Dir: Michael Winterbottom. US. 2000. 120mins.

Prod cos: United Artists Films in association with Pathe Pictures, The Arts Council Of England, StudioCanal, BBC and Alliance Atlantis. US dist: United Artists. Int'l sales: Pathe International, tel: (33) 1 40 76 91 65. Exec prods: Martin Katz, Alexis Lloyd, Andrea Calderwood. Prod: Andrew Eaton. Co-prod: Douglas Berquist. Scr: Frank Cottrell Boyce, inspired by the novel The Mayor Of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy. DoP: Alwin Kuchler. Prod des: Mark Tildesley, Ken Rempel. Ed: Trevor Waite. Mus: Michael Nyman. Main cast: Wes Bentley, Milla Jovovich, Nastassja Kinski, Peter Mullan, Sarah Polley, Shirley Henderson, Marty Antonini.

Set in a small mountain town in the snowbound mountains of northern California in 1869, 20 years after the Gold Rush, The Claim is a richly-textured tragedy that moves at its own measured pace but builds to an intense and powerful conclusion.

A bigger production than previous films by gifted UK director Michael Winterbottom, its story is never dwarfed by its setting. Rather, the harsh and unforgiving landscape is integral to the tale of greed, deception and love on the American frontier. Commercial prospects are limited by the pace and bleak location of the piece, but the strong cast, led by budding heartthrob Wes Bentley, and good reviews should generate a healthy arthouse following.

Inspired by elements of Hardy's The Mayor Of Casterbridge, the film is at heart the story of an Irish pioneer Daniel Dillon (Mullan) who sells his wife and child in return for the claim on a piece of land in the Sierra Navada. Twenty years later, he is a wealthy man and the king of a prosperous mountain community called Kingdom Come.

Arriving into town on the same day are Dalglish (Bentley), a young surveyor for the Central Pacific Railroad who has arrived to decide whether the railroad will come via Kingdom Come, and a sick woman (Kinski) and her daughter Hope (Polley). All three will change Dillon's life forever.

Mullan and Polley, two of the finest actors at work in film today, are the standouts in the cast; Bentley is not commanding enough as Dalglish; Milla Jovovich is more watchable than usual as the local madam who has shacked up with Dillon.

The film itself is beautiful to look at, the snowy terrain contributing a desolate melancholy to the drama. The town of Kingdom Come itself a wonderfully complex creation. Alwin Kuchler's cinematography and Mark Tildesley and Ken Rempel's design should be in line for Oscar recognition.