Naturally this is spoilery about the full-on ending (and a couple of other things). My review is here if you want to read it.
I am not a monster so I am not going to make you read the whole article to discover that, yes, adorable baby Abi SURVIVES.
I know films don’t usually kill children but, well, I’ve seen The Witch, so I wasn’t entirely sure until the end whether she’d make it.
The Reckoning is about the persecution of women, and it doesn’t limit itself to witchfinding. Grace’s friend Kate is attacked by her husband in their cart when she tries to defend her friend; she fights back though, and in her case a quick brain defeats a stronger opponent. When he tries to strangle her she pushes him off, then as he’s lying on the ground mocking her she throws a stone at their horse which runs off, the cartwheel chopping off half his head and killing him. She sits stunned by the side of the road but this isn’t the last we see of her.
Watching women being tortured isn’t much fun, though luckily The Reckoning isn’t too graphic. We are left in no doubt what is happening to Grace throughout her interrogation for witchcraft though, so the final twist into fiery revenge is – even if it morphs the film into exploitative revenge drama – pretty enjoyable.
The man who has sentenced so many women to death by fire, Witchfinder Moorcroft, is burned alive in the Squire’s castle.
It’s not a deliberate burning by Grace, unlike when he convicted and burned her mother for witchcraft in front of the 7 year old Grace and her father, decades earlier. (The black and white scenes at the start of the film are her mother being dragged from their home by soldiers; later we see her condemned and murdered.)
Grace has planned the escape of baby Abi with the help of Edwin, the Squire’s servant. Her plan is for Edwin to cut the arm of another prisoner who has died of plague, and add his blood to a jug of wine which Edwin will then serve to Moorcroft. Grace asks for a meeting with the witchfinder too, and once there she tells Moorcroft she will confess to witchcraft as long as her daughter, who has been sentenced to be burned to death with Grace, is spared.
Moorcroft agrees but only if Abi is brought up by his helper Ursula, which will mean she grows up immersed in Moorcroft’s misogyny and persecution system. (Ursula was burned at the stake by Moorcroft previously but a rainstorm put out the fire, which he took as a sign from God. She was badly injured but lived, and since then has been working with him.)
Moorcroft also insists Grace drink the wine with him – she cannot refuse and drinks it, even though it’s infected with the plague.
Taking him unawares, she stabs his hands to the table with two of his own torture instruments so he cannot move. Grace finally sees him for the ordinary man he is, and reminds him about her mother all those years ago. Ursula appears and attacks Grace and in the melee a candle sets Ursula on fire; she leaps from the window before the flames can kill her.
Meanwhile Edwin creeps into the Squire’s room and rescues baby Abi. He finds Grace just as she is being threatened with a gun by another henchman. Edwin stabs him to death then takes Grace to her daughter.
Grace leaves Moorcroft attached to the table in the burning room, with a gun in front of him to taunt him. She, Edwin and Abi get to the castle entrance but she pulls down the portcullis so she is stuck inside the castle and Edwin and Abi are outside. She does this, she tells him, to protect him and Abi because she has drunk the infected wine – Edwin tells her that actually the Squire had swapped it for his own and her drink was untainted. She tries to get out but it’s impossible, and sends Edwin to her friend Kate with the baby.
Grace goes back inside the castle to the jail in the basement. Threatening the jailer, she gets the keys and frees the other prisoners, but the Squire appears and kills one of them. Grace fights and beheads him; she then sees a ghost of her husband Joseph telling her to get up. She rouses herself and climbs down into the jail well.
Moorcroft manages to pull out one of the spikes holding him to the table but can’t shift the other one – he takes the gun to shoot himself as the flames leap higher, but it’s empty.
Kate is still sitting by the track when Edwin finds her. She tells him they must leave, and they get in the cart with the baby and drive off.
Title cards explain that 500,000 women in North America and Europe were murdered for supposed witchcraft, and that the last woman to be executed as a witch was Janet Horne who was burned at the stake in 1727.
Meanwhile, Grace emerges on the other side of the river, having swum through from the well. She turns and looks back at the burning castle in the town.
Notes: Obviously The Reckoning is cinema not pure historical truth.
Most people executed for witchcraft in England were hanged not burned (though that doesn’t exclude flame-loving individuals like Judge Moorcroft from existing, and considering local woman Molly Prior is hanged for witchcraft in The Reckoning his sentence of burning for Grace is just pure malice).
I googled Janet Horne and according to Wikipedia this probably wasn’t her really name. Janet Horne was apparently simply a name used for witches in Scotland.
Also the figure of 500,000 is very much disputed. Estimates I’ve seen start at 40,000 and go up into the hundreds of thousands.
Most were indeed women, though.
Check out this brief but interesting round up of some myths and truths from English Heritage.