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on 19 October 2017
Yowza! That's all I could muster after witnessing director Ken Russell's magnificent 1971 masterpiece (yeah, I went there and said it) ''The Devils''. Sure, its not the most illuminating of responses but that was the only word that would bumble out as I had just seen something very special. How I had missed this one I'm still at a loss to say, but thankfully I've caught up with this rather brilliant movie which like all great films work on multiple levels and delivers a rich tapestry of emotion and mesmerizing performances. Anyway, enough of my gushing - lets get this thing started...

In 17th century France, Father Urbain Grandier (an amazing Oliver Reed) is local priest to the city of Loudun. A unorthodox character whose views on sex and religion fly in the face of what have gone before, using his charming guile to ensure his flock are protected from tyranny at the hands of the outside establishment. Proving a divisive stumbling block for the power-hungry Cardinal Richelieu (Christopher Logue) and the government, they plot to overthrow this man of virtue. As luck would have it, a sexually obsessed Sister by the name of Jeanne (Vanessa Redgrave) accuses Grandier of satanism following an 'erotic vision' - which then paves the way for an unceremonious fall from grace for our erstwhile Father... As the city descends into chaos with the church held on trial for blasphemy, Grandier endures a trial of both body and mind in a truly gutwrenching ordeal that exposes how dark man can truly get...

I'm a fan of Ken Russells' other movies (mainly 'Women in Love', 'Altered States' and 'Crimes of Passion') but this has quickly risen to become my favourite of his works. Both profound and deeply unsettling, the movie works in tandem as both a sad, sorrowful tale of one singular man amidst a sea of insanity and as an examination of how a political agenda can intertwine with that of the church. Russell's direction is sharp and insightful, aided by his own screenplay (based on the novels 'The Devils of Loudun' by Aldous Huxley and 'The Devils' by John Whiting), ably supported by the rich cinematography of David Watkin whose roaming camerwork ensures the beautiful production design depicting Loudon as a modernistic white-tiled city from Derek Jarmin is an image you will never forget. The cast too are pitch perfect from the sublime lead performance from Oliver Reed - who is everything a movie star should be to the tortured lunacy of Vanessa Redgrave, everything is truly stunning. I could go on and on, but I'm thinking you get the picture.

BFI Video's UK DVD release sports a good, if slightly grainy transfer aided by a vibrant soundtrack - its a shame as of this writing there isn't a Blu-Ray release, but rest assured its worth upgrading for. Thankfully, BFI have afforded the movie a plethora of extra special features which cover the production from: A Mark Kermode introduction, the excellent 'Hell on Earth' documentary exploring the film's production and controversial history, candid Ken Russell interviews, fully illustrated book, audio commentary with Russell, Kermode, Michael Bradsell and Paul Joyce, theatrical trailers and wonderfully the first premiere presentation of the original UK 'X' certificate. All in all, this is a work of art and a film that studios rarely make anymore - something of this audacity and beauty could never really be equalled today. Highly recommended.
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on 5 October 2015
There re a number of versions of this movie floating around: if you are buying the two disc set with Mark Kamode introducing it you're purchasing the fullest version available, and that's the one I'm reviewing.
First the personalities involved. Ken Russell directed one of my all-time favourite movies, Women In Love, and so I've always been keen to see this one on that basis. The fact that both contain Oliver Reed at his peek is another reason. The direction is supreb, an amazing piece of work and clearly the product of someone who is full of confidence and skill. Russell is extremely daring in his choices and I found myself quickly lost to the movie, forgetting reality around me. Reed gives one of his top three performances in my view. he is mesmorising as the priest and the role could have been written for him (I suspect it was certainly tailored to his talents at the very least). Redgrave manages to portray spite and sexual frustration extremely well and inhabits the role completely as the abbess. Other familiar faces crop up throughout the film including George from George and Mildrid which was amusing.
The story is gripping and the sense of place is extremely well created. The ending is genuinely moving and disturbing. I felyt some aspects were slightly over-egged: for example the nuns' attempt to act possessed didn't need quite so much nudity - but this was the early seventies and Russell was clearly out to include everything he could get away with (though sadly he didn't really get away with this one).
The reason I only gave it four stars is because I did feel uncomfortable with the way the nudity was used - it bordered on cheap titilation at times rather than serving the story. There is also in this version inclusion of the quite infamous scene where the abbess fantasises about Christ on the cross. Some will definitely find this blasphemous and offensive and are advised not to watch if they know this of themselves.
I haven't yet watched the second disc, the documentary, but the accompanying booklet is extremely interesting and informative.
Am I glad I purchased this film? Yes for the sheer power of Reed's performance and Russell's direction. There are parts that left me uneasy - but I'm sure Ken would argue that's only a sign of the strength of his film, if it had no impact what would be the point?
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on 24 September 2013
'The Devils' is a 1971 film directed by Ken Russell about the events leading up to the trial and execution of Father Urbain Grandier in Loudon in France in 1634. Since the film combines religion with full frontal nudity and graphic violence, it was hardly surprising that the movie provoked controversy when it was first shown at cinemas. The film itself undoubtedly looks good, thanks to excellent set design by Derek Jarman and first rate costume design from Shirley Russell. The acting is generally good, especially Oliver Reed as Father Grandier and Gemma Jones as Madeleine. However, the film is rather uneven in tone. In my opinion, the campy nature of the scenes at King Louis XIII's court do not mix well with other scenes which are serious and earnest, such as the funeral eulogy delivered by Father Grandier near the start of the film, or the later scenes of Father Grandier's trial. I also think that Vanessa Redgrave's performance as Sister Jeanne is hysterical and over the top. However, on the whole this is a very interesting film, and the photography and lighting is superb, courtesy of the brilliant cinematographer David Watkins.

This British Film Institute DVD uses the 1971 X rated British version of the film, as opposed to the more censored American R rated cut, or the longer director's cut. The DVD features an audio commentary recorded with the director Ken Russell and the film editor Michael Bradsell. It is moderated by the film critic Mark Kermode, and it is quite informative about the circumstances in which the film was made. However, the commentary suggests that the film is more historically accurate than is really the case. The real life Father Grandier was acquitted of the charge of sorcery by a church tribunal, before Cardinal Richelieu ordered a retrial, and there was a two year gap between Sister Jeanne's original accusations of sorcery and Father Grandier's execution. The DVD also includes both the British and American trailers, and 'Amelia and the Angel', a short film directed by Ken Russell from 1958, which is rather charming in itself, although it has very little to do with the main feature, apart from the fact that they are directed by the same person and the costumes in both are designed by the talented Shirley Russell.

The second disc includes an interesting documentary about the making of the film entitled 'Hell on Earth', first shown on Channel 4 in 2002. This features interviews with most of the surviving cast and crew, along with some footage that was edited out of the film when it went on general release in 1971 after objections raised by the film censors and the Warner Brothers executives. The director of this documentary, Paul Joyce, also takes part in the audio commentary on the main feature. The second disc of the DVD also includes some on set footage, and a vintage documentary from 1971 made by the production company, Warner Brothers, entitled 'Director of Devils', which includes some fascinating footage of the recording of Peter Maxwell Davies's brilliant, atonal score, and a candid interview with the writer/director, Ken Russell.

The booklet includes some well researched pieces about the censorship issues surrounding the film, an essay about the film by Mark Kermode, and short biographical essays about the director, Ken Russell, and the film's two main stars, Vanessa Redgrave and Oliver Reed. Overall, this is a well produced package.
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on 26 April 2018
I watched film a very degrading film quality of film good acts of debauchery and evil nuns who were supposed to be believer's of God were just hypocrites and did the most unspeakable things I don't know what ken russell was thinking about when he made the film it was all in bad taste it's was a film that can put evil things into peoples minds it should have a warning don't watch i was shocked by what I saw in the film
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on 3 July 2013
I remember watching part of this film when I was a lot younger, and I can remember it being on normal TV, but very late at night. Even back then, and most probably the film was well and truly cut for TV, but it still had an impact on me. There are several movies that come along in our life that you think, that was great, well directed, great acting especially by Oliver Reed, visually stunning, and you know it's going to be an instant classic, well this is it.

This version of "The Devils" has been fully restored to its original format, and when I say, restored, I mean very nearly every seen that was missing in previous versions and has been placed back into the film, or placed into the special features section. There are a number of special features included on the second disk, of which "Mark Kermode" interviews the director and meets up with some of the surviving cast members. It explains after years of trying, how they were able to try and retrieve the original removed / banned footage from the film, to get it placed back into the movie for this version.

I won't say anymore about this, but due to the controversy of this film and the content it holds, for god sake, please, please, buy this version, because it will be Sod's law that this copy could disappear also.

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on 17 February 2016
The film speaks for itself, and is a classic of stylised drama which pushed all Ken Russell's hot buttons.
The added features were also quite fascinating - the early Russell film Amelia and the Angel, and for me most importantly a feature about the music. I have always been a Peter Maxwell Davies fan and it was great to see him hard a work synching his music to the film - and looking almost juvenile at around 35.
Also interesting to me was to see the Japanese percussionist Stomu Yamashta as part of the ensemble in additin to Max's group the Fires of London. Yamashta was quite fashionable in the early 1970s producing ambient/electronic/percussion music and I had not realised that he was part of the musical team.
The other documentaries are also well worth viewing.
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on 23 January 2017
This BFI release is the most complete cut of the film, which itself needs no introduction.The discs are packed with hours of extra features, including behind the scenes footage and documentaries. There is a commentary track, in which you can hear Ken himself discussing the making of the film and thinking behind it. Sadly, the censored scenes are not present in this version of the film, but they can be seen in the included documentaries.
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on 4 January 2017
I bought this for the included extra film, 'Amelia and the Angel' (which I could not find anywhere else) but the film was cropped leaving the upper portion of the film missing, how do I know this? BBC TV showed 'Amelia and the Angel' with the complete image. I am sending 'The Devils' back for a refund because of this. How the BFI did not remain true to the original copy of 'Amelia and the Angel' is a disgrace.
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on 17 June 2016
This film is just as grim and just as jaw-dropping now as it was when I first went to see it more than forty years ago. It is certainly not for the faint hearted, but the stars give excellent performances and all I can say is - if you like that sort of thing, well then you'll love it!
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on 12 December 2012
very nice presentation of this film with good extras.powerful moving performance by Oliver Reed as Fr Grandier.Ken Russell at his wonderful exploitative shocking best with any excuse for ladies to dance about naked taken yet the basic story is very solid the acting on the whole is very good especially Reed and i found my senses assaulted on all sides by that arch manipulator Russell love him or loathe him British cinema is all the poorer for his passing also i enjoyed spotting Brian Murphy in a pre man about the house role recommended to anyone who is not easily shocked and is open minded enough to watch something different from a unique director
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