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The Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush) has got himself locked up in the lunatic asylum at Charenton.
The Abbe (Joaquin Phoenix) has prescribed writing about his deviant fantasies in order to rid himself of the thoughts.
What he doesn’t prescribe, but the Marquis does anyway, is to publish the writings. This is done with the help of the laundress Maddie (Kate Winslet), who smuggles the scribblings out to a man on horseback.
This is how Justine is published. Napoleon is less-than-pleased with the work and orders all copies to be burned and for the Marquis to be killed. He is talked around to sending Dr Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) to the asylum to ‘work’ with the artist.
The good doctor is a pioneer of curing mental illness. Unfortunately this is the early 1800s, so that mostly involves torture.
Before taking up permanent residency at Charenton, Dr Royer-Collard swings by a Paris convent, where he collects his underage, orphan bride-to-be. They’re wed in very short order. She’s so much his junior and the wedding happens so quickly, everyone begins to gossip and the information makes its way back to the Marquis…who writes a little play.
Which the performers of the asylum put on for the doctor (they’ve been doing plays for some time, always to good turn out) but this one is rather bawdier than usual and, of course, more true-to-life than the typical fare.
This enrages the doctor, who does the worst thing he can think of to a writer–he removes his every ability to put pen to paper. No more pens, no more ink, no more paper.
The Marquis gets creative and then things go a bit south…
The cast is A+, as is the writing and direction. And cinematography and costumes. It’s all grand. Historically correct, not so much. It’s funny and dramatic and a little bit gross, just like the Marquis.
5/5 just don’t consider it to be a history lesson.
Non sequitur bit of info: I went to see this in the cinema in 2000 and it was sparsely attended, but the other film-goers were a random bunch. There was a young couple with a baby in a stroller a couple of rows away and the person I was with and I were: Do they *know* what this film is about?