Quills (2000)

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Director: Philip Kaufman

Writer: Doug Wright (play & screenplay)

Cast: Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix, Michael Caine, Patrick Malahide, Amelia Warner, Stephen Moyer

Synopsis: With bedroom eyes and the mischievous smirk of an insatiable roué, Geoffrey Rush is a perfect choice to play the Marquis de Sade in this period film adapted by Doug Wright from his own stage play and directed by Philip Kaufman.

Imprisoned in France's Charenton asylum at the turn of the 18th century, de Sade is a stately court jester in dishevelled finery, and Rush imbues the role with the fierce urgency of a writer whose sexual fantasies are his sole remaining defence against repression and hypocrisy. Deprived of quill and ink, he writes with wine, then blood, then his own faeces--a descent into madness or an impassioned refusal to be silenced? Quills embraces freedom of expression while affirming that all freedoms have a price.

De Sade smuggles manuscripts out of Charenton with help from Madeleine (Kate Winslet), a virginal laundress who relishes de Sade's scandalous prose--a divine irony since she was taught to read by asylum abbé Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), whose desire for Madeleine is suppressed by Catholic propriety. The delicate dynamic of this trio is shattered by the arrival of Royer-Collard (Michael Caine), a righteous hypocrite appointed to silence de Sade once and for all. It's all very engrossing as a piece of theatre (which it still is, despite Kaufman's elegant filming), and although Wright's literate dialogue limits de Sade to zesty ripostes and sneering perversity, Rush's intensity ensures that the marquis's plight is no laughing matter. Quills has a point, makes it without condescension and knows the difference between madness and passion .


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