Eleven years after the French Revolution, an exhausted and haunted Robespierre is about to commence his Reign of Terror. His one time friend and co-founder of the revolution, Danton (Gerard Depardieu), returns from his self imposed exile to find Paris on the verge of tearing itself apart. He has ideas of what is best for the people, but Robespierre, and more importantly his backbiting cronies, disagrees furiously.

Made in 1983 by Polish director Andrezj Wajda and based on a novel by fellow countryman Stanislawa Przybyszewska, two names that immediately conjure Spell Check Hell, Danton is not a full-blooded historical epic in the Hollywood tradition, but a rich dramatisation of the events of November 1793. So, if you like men in wigs, drinking gallons of vino and shouting at each other, this is the film for you.

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Having only briefly covered the French Revolution at school, I can hardly consider myself an expert on this particular period. But still I found Danton to be a more than worthwhile way to pass two hours. It succeeds more as a history lesson than it does as a piece of entertainment and is to be admired more than it is to be cherished. But what there is to admire is plentiful.

Wajda trots things out at a measured pace but never causes the film to drag and the photography and art direction is top notch, captured beautifully in all their rich earthy yet colourful tones. Special mention should go to the score, sounding like it was stolen from one of Stanley Kubricks nightmares.

The film won a BAFTA for Best Foreign Film, no doubt helped by the performances. Wojciech Psoniak plays Robespierre as a man obsessed with his principles and refusal to see past any way that is not his own. He gives a performance that never descends into villainy.

Depardieu, in the title role, gives a performance, which, if called passionate, would be an understatement. In one impressive courtroom scene, he delivers a lengthy speech in a single uninterrupted take. His rage reaches such a level that he is left for the rest of the film only able to speak in a hoarse whisper.

It is an echo that lasts until the final guillotine blade, dripping in blood, falls.

Reviewed on: 24 Feb 2006
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The final historical drama that closes the bloody door on the French Revolution.
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Director: Andrzej Wajda

Writer: Jean-Claude Carrière, Jacek Gasiorowski, Agnieszka Holland, Boleslaw Michalek, Andrzej Wajda, based on the book by Stanislawa Przybyszewska

Starring: Gerard Depardieu, Wojciech Pszoniak, Anne Alvaro, Roland Blanche, Patrice Chereau, Emmanuelle Debever, Krzysztof Globisz, Roger Planchon, Alain Mace

Year: 1983

Runtime: 130 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: France/Poland/Germany


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