Dir: Philip Kaufman
Star: Geoffrey Rush, Michael Caine, Kate Winslett, Joaquin Phoenix
Cert / Year: 18 - R / 2000
Format: DVD R2

This is a story of sex and pain, perversion and torture (I bet that got your attention). This is the story of the Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush) during his incarceration in a French insane asylum in 1790. This world-renowned purveyor of perversion is given writing implements by the naive Abbe du Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix) in an attempt to rehabilitate him. However he uses them to write disgustingly explicit stories that he gets chambermaid Madeleine LeClerc (Kate Winslett) to smuggle to his publishers. This leads to Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) to be sent to the asylum to cure the Marquis using his cruel torture methods. This will be one confrontation of minds with no winners only victims.

The Marquis de Sade is a man who's real life was one filled with sexual excess (the word Sadism comes from his name). So much so you couldn't make a film of most of it, as it would surely be banned. This film is not a true story at all. For a start he didn't publish his books while in jail but after he was released, and he certainly didn't meet his fate as described in the film. Instead imagine it as more as the way the Marquis himself would have dramatized this period of his own life.

While never as sexy or shocking as it could of been the film certainly tackles a number of difficult themes, from torture and mutilation to pedophilia and necrophilia. Don't get me wrong this isn't a walk in the park and it is shocking in places, its just you get the felling that as in Marquis' writing the potential was there to take events even further. Would this have earnt the film a banning? Maybe, but this would suit the piece perfectly and would have bought a smile to face of the Marquis had he been alive today.

This is a finely acted beautifully written drama. The performance of the main cast is simply superb. Geoffrey Rush is outstanding as the Marquis providing the right amount of sexual perversion, pleasure in pain, and creative drive. He gives us an anti-hero that is self centered manipulative and disturbed, yet ensures that we can't help but like him. Michael Caine is excellent as his nemesis, a man hiding behind the respectability of office yet who's sexual practices bring him in line with the Marquis. It is this fact that is one of the central themes to the story, as it explores the premise is that there is a small amount of sexual perversion in all of us. Along with the question of censorship as who is to say that the person who makes us face this should be punished.

Quills makes us face this and the darker side of the human psyche in a way that films like People vs. Larry Flint can only dream of. Throughout the film the layers of respectability of the main characters are striped away revealing the black underbelly of their secret desires. A loss of innocence that the Marquis work often addressed. Yet despite its downbeat ending it there are moments of humor in the cleverly worked script, but be warned this isn't a happy tale.

Quills is a fine piece of bodice ripping costume drama. The top-notch cast complements Doug Wright's great script with the clever idea of telling the story as if the Marquis wrote it. Michael Caine, Joaquin Phoenix, Kate Winslett (along with her obligatory topless scene) and especially Geoffrey Rush are all perfectly cast and deliver powerful yet believable performances. This is a dark story and the rather unpleasant ending may put some off, but those with a stronger stomach will enjoy this film for daring to go further than most other period pieces. As the Marquis says in the film "I didn't create this world of ours! I merely recorded it!"


There are no bad words... only bad deeds.


Marquis de Sade: In order to know virtue, we must acquaint ourselves with vice. Only then can we know the true measure of a man.

Marquis de Sade: Prepare yourself for the most impure tale ever to spring from the mind of man!

Rating: 3 out of 5

Picture 1.85:1 Anamorphic A fine picture however the film itself has very bland palette.
Audio Dolby Digital 5.1 Good enough but this isn't the film to push it.
Features Audio commentary by Doug Wright
3 short featurettes
Fact and Film Analysis
Verdict A good disc, both in terms of transfer and extras.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Reviewed by Glitz Link Back Top Home