Quills (2000)

(On Cable TV, September 2017) I suppose it was only a matter of time before the Marquis de Sade became a romantic figure for our so-called enlightened age, portrayed as fighting the true monsters of social righteousness. Yeah … have they even tried reading de Sade’s stuff? Of course, having Geoffrey Rush in the lead role helps a lot in making de Sade’s sympathetic … and measuring him to even-worse antagonists is just stacking the deck unfairly. At its best, Quills is a meditation on freedom of speech, and how obscenity (from a writer) isn’t quite as bad as outright demonstrated sadism (from his jailers). It’s generally OK at portraying this point, although I really was not pleased with the death of a character during the film’s third act—it seemed cruel even in a film built around cruelty. Executed with some competence, it does celebrate the written word no matter its medium or intent and as such gets some mild built-in interest. Still, it’s Rush’s performance that’s most interesting here, and director Philip Kaufman’s handling of difficult material that becomes efficient to the point of invisibility. Quills is really not supposed to be historically accurate, so any criticism in this direction becomes relatively moot. Fans of Jasper Fforde’s fantasy novels will be happy to see his name in the end credits—before becoming a best-selling author, Fforde was a film crewmember and he worked on movies such as Quills.

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