Salem, Massachusetts, 1692. The town tears itself apart during the investigations testing the claims of a group of young girls that their nocturnal forest gatherings were the result of satanic possession. At the root of the hysteria is the sexual and emotional turmoil of Abigail Williams (Ryder), bent on vengeance against Elizabeth Proctor (Allen) who put a stop to Abigail's affair with her husband John (Day-Lewis); but that particular power struggle, with its deceit, suspicion and resentment, is as nothing to the deadly vortex that consumes Salem when Judge Danforth (Scofield) arrives to take control with trials and hangings. The ironies of the piece, adapted by Arthur Miller from his own 1953 play on the perils of McCarthyism, are savage and well served by a top-notch cast perfectly attuned to the poetry of the dialogue and the parable's fiery passions. Hytner holds the action together with solid, unflashy, well-paced direction, ensuring that this is no mere period piece but a compelling, pertinent account of human fear, frailty and cold ambition.