Quills


Directed by: Philip Kaufman
Written by:Doug Wright
Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix, Michael Caine
Released: March 1, 2001
Grade: B+

Those unfamiliar with 18th Century French history need to prepare themselves for a quick lesson.  The Marquis De Sade was born in Paris 1740.  At age 28 he was found guilty of molesting a prostitute and after more crimes and scandals was sentenced to death but he fled to Italy in 1772.  He would serve most of the remainder of his life in prisons and insane asylums where his only outlet was his writing.  Within his cells, he penned horrifically pornographic novels that developed cult status on the black market.  Many were against his writings and they would eventually lead to his death in 1814 but even today controversy surrounds the issue of whether he was a brilliant writer or a filthy bugger.  In fact, the word sadism comes from the Marquis himself.

So just what kind of writing am I talking about?  Having checked a few internet sites and read a few of the passages that were too graphic for film audiences, I understand just how depraved the Marquis De Sade was.  I won't go to the trouble of printing an extract for fear of offending too many.

Geoffrey Rush takes on the juicy leading role and has earned himself his Academy Award nomination.  He is brilliant in his portrayal and is supported by Kate Winslet, as a chambermaid, Joaquin Phoenix as a priest, and Michael Caine as a man sent to bring him to his senses.

The story is told with precision by director Philip Kaufman (Truly Madly Deeply) and adapted from Doug Wright’s play.  It has all the ingredients of a well-made period piece - great sets, great costumes, great actors, great story.  Yet somehow, despite all of this, I was not taken by the story.  Sure the Marquis had his part in history but he wasn't a character I found particularly interesting.  The ending itself epitomised my feelings and seemed to contradict the serious nature of what preceded it.  I was never completely satisfied.

On a curious side note, a point was raised by a fellow viewer in Roger Ebert's Movie Answer Man column.  Being set in France, it's obvious that they spoke French and in the film they all speak English so it can be understood.  But why is it that the actors all speak with a British accent?  An interesting question for which there is no answer.  It seems that movies set in non-English speaking countries of Europe have their characters speak predominantly with British accents.

It's hard to say who would find Quills overwhelming appealing although the National Board of Review found it worthy of their best picture of 2000 honour.  It admirably says something about freedom of speech and the changing of society but not enough is made of his life story.  Despite all the hype, there are definitely better films currently on offer.