Top positive review
One person found this helpful
Hell Holds No Surprise
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.