This 2000 film was written by Doug Wright and directed by Philip Kaufman. It tells the story of the final years of the Marquis de Sade (played by Geoffrey Rush), as he resides in a French Insane Asylum. Despite being confined, he continues to publish he erotic novels, with the help of one of the chambermaids, a young woman named Madeline (Kate Winslet), who smuggles his manuscripts out of the Asylum, to take them to his publisher. When Napoleon learns of the controversy surrounding the content of de Sade’s books, he sends the extremely strict Dr. Royer-Collard, I don’t recall his first name ever being mentioned in the film, (played by Michael Caine) to investigate the Asylum. Dr. Royer-Collard immediately clashes with Abbé de Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), a Catholic priest who runs the Asylum. While Royer-Collard believes in using physical punishments to “cure” the patients, de Coulmier prefers to allow them to express themselves through art, including his tacit, if not explicit, approval of the publication of de Sade’s novels.
The majority of the film deals with that conflict between the doctor and de Sade, with de Coulmier caught in the middle. There is also a developing relationship between de Coulmier and Madeline, who enjoys a playfully flirtatious relationship with de Sade, but has much stronger feelings for the Priest, which he reciprocates. Of course, any sort of relationship with those two is forbidden, so they both try to fight their feelings, yet rumors begin to spread amongst the Asylum about them. When the doctor’s teenage wife (Amelia Warner) leaves him for a younger man, after discovering her sexuality thanks to her clandestine reading of de Sade’s books, the doctor is enraged, and proceeds to completely take over the Asylum, and confine de Sade to a solitary prison, while having Madeline transferred away, due to her complicity in getting de Sade’s books published. In a last-ditch effort to publish one more book, de Sade enlists the aid of Madeline and a group of inmates to write a finale script, but this tragically leads to a fire that puts the lives of everyone in the Asylum in jeopardy.
Everyone in this film plays their roles perfectly. Winslet is suitably innocent yet brimming with sexual curiosity, while Phoenix is man struggling between his faith and his emotions. Caine is a stern taskmaster, and Rush portrays the de Sade as a man bordering between genius and insanity. This is a man who doesn’t just want to write, he has to. When denied writing material he literally begins to go mad. I’m not familiar with the history, so I don’t know how accurate this film is, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact, this is such an entertaining movie that I would recommend it even if Kate Winslet DIDN’T have one fully nude scene near the end of it.
Thankfully, she does!
TWO THUMBS UP!