Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Although an aristocrat, the Marquis de Sade survived the French Revolution by staying in prison. Famous for writing pornography (Justine, Philosophy Of The Boudoir, 120 Days Of Sodom) and ending his days in a loony bin, he became a symbol of free expression amongst philosophers, surrealists and feminists.

Philip Kaufman's film, based on Doug Wright's play, trivialises the man and his suffering. Geoffrey Rush (Shine, Elizabeth) is an actor who needs to be tied. Here, as the persecuted Marquis, he is given his head, resulting in what can only be described as a camp narcissistic rave.

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The wonderful Kate Winslet is wasted as a laundry maid who helps smuggle his manuscripts out to a waiting world and has to endure the ultimate humiliation in a final scene with Joaquin Phoenix, whose portrayal of the priest in charge of the mad house is so wet he comes with a flood warning.

Only the dependable Michael Caine rises above the nonsense to give a performance of note. Admittedly, he plays the baddy, a doctor sent into the asylum to sort things out - ie curb this reckless artistic foolery.

Wright admits that he has taken liberties in the script with what is known of de Sade's last years. Kaufman's recreation of early 19th century Paris is more theatrical than real. The lunatics do turns, as if at an actors' workshop, and are typecast by their infirmities - The Bird Man, The Bald Transvestite, The Arsonist, The Brute, The Goofy Plonker, etc - and scenes at Napoleon's court are like tableaux in a waxworks.

Whenever a lady reads the Marquis' depraved prose all she wants is to grab a pretty boy and get it on, which is about the level of appreciation of the great man's life and work.

Reviewed on: 09 Mar 2001
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Loose biopic of the final years of the Marquis de Sade.
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Director: Philip Kaufman

Writer: Doug Wright, based on the play by Doug Wright

Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix, Michael Caine, Billie Whitelaw, Patrick Malahide, Amelia Warner, Amelia Warner

Year: 2000

Runtime: 124 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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