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Dangerous Liaisons
USA/UK 1988
Directed by Stephen Frears
Running time 120 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars


Lavish costume dramas are usual the terrain of European film-makers but English director Stephen Frears has done a fine job with this 18th century classic tale of the cruel games played by a group of idle aristocrats (who in a few years would have lost their heads to the guillotine). Of course the original texts, Francois Choderlos de Laclos' 1782 novel "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" and Christopher Hampton's play based on it, provides a superior starting point

Glenn Close plays the beautiful but jealous Marquise de Merteuil who challenges her former lover, the Vicomte de Valmont (John Malkovich) to seduce the virginal Cecile de Volanges (Uma Thurman) before she is wed in an arranged marriage to Merteuil’s lover.  To Valmont, a notorious seducer  this is easy pickings so he also wagers the Marquise that he will be able to bed the very moral Madame de Tourvel (Michelle Pfeiffer). In the course of carrying out his plan, Valmont falls in love and is stricken with remorse but this display of sincerity on exacerbates the Marquise’s spiteful nature.

Hampton's Oscar-winning script is deliciously acid, the performances from an unlikely cast are strong, Malkovich despite a tendency to pout over-much revels in his role as does Close both actors benefitting from their theatre experience. Michelle Pfeiffer is surprisingly effective but the role of  French mademoiselle is a bit of a stretch for Thurman and why Keanu Reeves of all people was chosen to play Cécile's true love, Le Chevalier Danceny, is a mystery.   The production design is superb (the film also won Oscars for costumes and art direction) and Frears who hitherto had directed small English art -house films is in full command of his material.

FYI: For a much weaker rendition of Laclos' story see Valmont with Colin Friels and Annette Bening in the leads. A much more lavish film although it actually started production first It was not released until the following year when it bombed critically and commercially. Ironically, it was directed by Milos Forman who had had such success with with the big budget historical biopic, Amadeus.

 

 

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