Icons – Caine: Quills


Quills is based on the life and works of legendary filth-monger the Marquis de Sade (played with seductive relish by the always impressive Geoffrey Rush), and is one of Michael Caine’s first films of the 21st century. Although a bit liberal with history (in other words largely inaccurate at times), it proves to be a red-blooded piece. This is a film that would perfectly at home in a double bill with Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. It is just as theatrical and contains some of the best British actors around.

Supposedly set during time the Marquis de Sade was imprisoned for his scandalous books (but in reality, according to scholars of his work, because of his affairs). Director Philip Kaufman bends the truth slightly, having de Sade write Salo: 120 Days of Sodom while held in the infamous Charenton asylum. (Nor did de Sade write Justine while in Charenton.).

It seems that during the new millennium Caine branched out (his already) extensive repertoire and notable works, with more experimental affairs or taking only supporting roles. Quills is one of the first of these new adventures Caine decided to take and bouncing back (after The Cider House Rules) with yet again another brilliant performance (no one mention On Deadly Ground).

Caine’s portrayal of Charenton’s Dr Royer-Collard is part Ebenezer Scrooge, part prudish preacher. Although Quills is up to the hilt with tip-top performances from the likes of Rush, Kate Winslet and Joaquin Phoenix, it is Caine and Rush who come out on top. It is a testament to Caine’s acting ability that he just steals every film he’s ever been in, even in  small roles. Be it bit-parts in the likes of Children of Men or being Christopher Nolan’s good luck charm. It seems that Sir Michael just gets better with age.

Quills may not be historically accurate when detailing the Marquis’ life, but it is well produced and fantastically theatrical, both in terms of style and direction. It seems to be one of those films that needs rediscovering.

Are you a fan of period dramas? Fancy a little extra sauciness with your britches and afternoon tea? Then may I recommend Quills for an interesting night’s viewing. To paraphrase the Marquis himself, “Welcome to our humble madhouse, I trust you’ll find yourself at home.”

Dominic O’Brien

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