Director: Ken Russell
Screenplay: Ken Russell
Based on the Play by: John Whiting
And the Novel by: Aldous Huxley
Starring: Vanessa Redgrave, Oliver Reed, Dudley Sutton, Gemma Jones, Max Adrian
Producers: Ken Russell & Robert H. Solo
Running Time: 107 min
BBFC Certificate: 18
Sadly reaching the end of his life back in November, Ken Russell was long a figure of controversy in the history of British and indeed world cinema. Famous for his flamboyant, campy style and frequent exploration of sexuality and the grotesque in his work, his films were always an acquired taste to say the least and his career dwindled in the last couple of decades. Back in the late 60′s and early 70′s he was a force to be reckoned with though, finding success with Women in Love, The Boyfriend and Tommy, despite his films having that ‘marmite’ effect on many. Certainly the most controversial, well known and probably most well received of Russell’s films came early on in this period in 1971 with the release of The Devils. With scenes of nuns taking part in depraved sexual acts and graphic gore and violence, the film struggled to get past the censors, with certain scenes being removed for its cinematic release and several more shaved off for home video. Even now, 41 years later, the film has long struggled to get a DVD release in the UK and those scenes missing from the cinematic release have not been reinstated. These wrangles have even prevented a Blu-Ray version from being released. The BFI however have finally given the film the full-blown special edition treatment with a 2-disc edition of the film utilising the finest available transfer so that we can witness Russell’s masterpiece in all its grotesque glory.
Based on a play by John Whiting and Aldous Huxley’s novel ‘The Devils of Loudon’, which was based on detailed research into true acts of the time, The Devils is set in seventeenth-century France. Father Urbain Grandier (Oliver Reed) is the lustful head of the well-fortified city of Loudun, a key location in the king (Graham Armitage) and cardinal’s (Christopher Logue) quest to gain full control over the country. Taking advantage of Grandier’s bed-hopping antics and exploiting the erotic obsessions of the deluded mother superior Sister Jeanne (Vanessa Redgrave), the leaders send a cruel Baron (Dudley Sutton) and sadistic ‘exorcist’ (Michael Gothard) to bring down Grandier, literally and figuratively reducing the city to rubble.
I must admit I’ve never sat through any Ken Russell films in their entirety before this. I was always more of a fan of the gritty realism of American cinema in the 70′s and than in the high camp Russell is more famous for. I’ve seen segments of Tommy that didn’t appeal to me and although Altered States sounds more like my kind of thing, it always looked a bit dated. So it was with a certain reluctance that I approached The Devils. I must say I’m glad now that I did. Yes there are dated elements and the performances and style are ludicrously over the top as I expected, but there is also a hell of a lot to appreciate on screen.
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