The Devils (1971) tells the tale of Urbain Grandier and his downfall due to accusations of witchcraft. Conversely, this tale does not involve supernatural, but rather depicts a depraved political drama. Regardless, The Devils supplies plenty of horrors. Ken Russel directed this film to much controversy. Several scenes clearly intend to offend. Clearly this intended to insult Catholicism. However, being offensive does not make it a bad film. Nor does being offensive make Ken Russel a bad director.
This film stars the late-great Oliver Reed as Father Urbain Grandier. It also stars Vanessa Redgrave in the role of the hunchbacked Sister Jeanne des Agnes of the local Ursuline Order.
Urbain Grandier – An a Imperfect, but Loved Leader
Urbain serves as the religious leader in the town of Loudun in France. He maintains tremendous support from the Loudun townspeople. The people of Loudun treat Urbain like a king. The deformed Sister Jeanne des Agnes harbors an unhealthy sexual attraction to him. Grandier knows nothing of this fatal attraction. He maintains multiple sexual relationships and ultimately marries a woman named Madeleine. This news drives Sister Jeanne blind with rage.
The Devils – Tension Between Church and State
Cardinal Richelieu convinces the king to tear down the walls of towns in order to prevent them from becoming protestant strongholds. On behalf of the King, Baron Jean de Laubardemont (Dudley Sutton) approaches the city of Loudun to execute this order. Urbain intervenes with force, threatening to kill Baron Jean de Laubardemont if he destroys a single brick. The Baron stands down, but clearly he will not go away quietly.
The Devils Take Down Urbain Grandier
Jealous of Urbain’s relationship with Madeleine, Sister Jeanne confesses to his colleague that Urbain practices witchcraft. Likewise, she claims that he demonically possesses her. Consequently, someone relays this information to the Baron. Of course, this information gives the Baron everything he needs to bring him down.
Without delay, Urbain is detained. The Baron tortures him and eventually executes him for his alleged crimes. He burns alive at the stake, never confessing. The trial amounts to a political assassination. Grandier out of the way, the Baron commands the destruction of the city walls.
A Stunning Portrayal
This film is shot brilliantly. The city of Louden is all white, as a metaphor for the purity of Urbain Grandier and his unwavering faith in the Catholic church. The man has vices, but his dedication to the people of Louden is absolute.
There is a great scene where Sister Jeanne dreams of Urbain approaching her. Her back is straight as she stands with flowing red hair. As she drops to her knees to dry his feet her back buckles while other nuns ridicule her. She curls up into her normal hunchback form. This scene is a perfect illustration for her burning contempt for her twisted figure. Her lust for Urbain and her revulsion of her deformity dictate her actions. The contrast of the nun’s black hoods against the alabaster walls suggests a secret evil that they are all capable of.
The Blasphemy of Ken Russel
I can Reviews of this film often call out that his movie is an affront to the Catholic Church. That charge is valid. The Devils depicts several historical aspects of Catholicism in grim unflinching detail. The inquisition that Grandier goes through is barbaric. Wooden wedges and sledgehammers are used to crush the bones in his legs. It is difficult to watch. Burning witches at the stake is not uniquely Catholic, but it is a historically correct tool in the Catholic toolbox. The real Urbain Grandier was burned alive at the stake.
As hard as these scenes are to watch, they are not gratuitous. These scenes intend to depict the brutality of man. The mass exorcism of the Ursuline order depicts a depraved orgy under the guise of religious process. This scene was obviously created to offend anyone with Christian sensibilities as the nuns quickly disrobe and sexually assault religious statues. The clergy, join the debauchery as a clear sign of their hypocrisy.
The Devils and Oliver Reed Deliver
I found myself pleasantly surprised by this film. I can’t recommend it for anyone that can’t set their religious fervor aside. Anyone else should find something to like here. Oliver Reed and Vanessa Redgrave deliver fantastic performances. Possibly, Reed delivers one of his best performance ever, but I tend to say that a lot. Dudley Sutton perfectly characterizes his calculating guile during the trial. He makes it clear that he understands the system. He plays that system, regardless of the horrors that come of it. Ken Russel takes many risks, but ultimately weaves a compelling memoir to a brutal point in history.
The Devils (1971) - A Tragic Story of Betrayal - Malevolent Dark
Director: Ken Russel
Date Created: 1971-01-01 00:00