Sunday, 8 April 2012


Those who created the 2000 released film Quills admit that it is not based on the facts of the life of the Marquis De Sade life but is a vehicle to examine issues such as censorship, pornography, sex, art, mental illness and religion. To this list I would add the misuse of power.

The Abbé du Coulmier is the head of an institution in France for those who have been declared insane during a period when Napoleon rules France. De Sade is incarcerated through his wife and the state because of his behaviour and those of his writings considered pornographic defamatory and subversive rather than because of his mental condition. In fact the film opens during the Reign of Terror with De Sade free and enjoying a view of the guillotine as a young harmless woman is put to her death to the enjoyment of the masses. The point I suppose being made is that if people are allowed to do as they please without state, religious or other sanctions and frameworks then human slaughter and suffering on a gigantic scale will occur.

Certainly having listed all the wars and acts of genocide occurring during the period of my life and that of my respective parents, the accumulation of numbers is staggering, with millions dying during certain short periods and the total running into hundreds of millions and most sobering of all I have only identified a couple of years when no war or slaughtering is not recorded (and which is not same thing as saying that none took place). To achieve some balance and to provide perspective my list also includes the great pandemics and the famines, the earthquakes and other natural disasters where the total is as great if not greater and yet the population of the planet has been able to increase by thousands of millions and continues to do so.

Having therefore made the point at the beginning of the film that governments and the population in general will commit horrific acts upon each other the film concentrates on the misuse of power by individuals. The Abbé is the real innocent in all of this. He cares for the inmates and in relation to the Marquis has allowed his cell quarters to be furnished with his furniture, his books, and an endless supply of writing paper and the pen (Quills) and ink. He is allowed to walk the grounds and organise theatre productions attended by society at the institution. He appears to also have an unlimited supply of wine with he shares with the Abbé as they debate issues which divide them.

What the Abbé does not know is that the Marquis has come to an arrangement with a Laundry maid to smuggle out his writings to an outside contact of a publisher and this results in the publication of Justine, his work which covers all manner of sexual activities and touches on the hypocrisy of the Princes of the Church who fornicate at random and make use of their position to increase their wealth and their power. In fact Justine was produced more than a decade before in internment at Charenton and he did not publish anything to merit the actions taken while he was there, or indeed put on the play which led to the various tragedies which bring the film to an end.

The Laundry maid is played by Kate Winslet who is fascinated by the man and who helps him for money. She also enjoys the substance of his writings which she shares with some of the other staff who engage in sexual orgies designed to demonstrate the corrupting influence of the writings. In fact while her character appears worldly and skilled in resisting the advances of the Marquis when she enters his cell. He interest is the Abbé who is helping with her general education and after her death he discovers that she a virgin.

Napoleon is advised to take action to stop de Sade continuing to publish but not to have him shot as his first reaction. He accepts advice to send in Doctor Royer Collard played by Michael Caine in one of his rare serious roles. He has an assortment of torture instruments designed to bring people to their senses including a water torture ducking device. He is also a hypocrite.

Arriving at the institution at the instigation of Napoleon he decides it is time to take his bride arranged with nuns at a convent of girl raised with them from being delivered as an orphan. She is not even of the legal age and because of his position he is able to marry and the nuns tell the girl she is lucky as the prospects for those in her position is usually the streets or to become nuns. The girl has been brought up a devout and innocent Catholic. Royer effectively rapes her at his pleasure without any regard for her feelings or inexperience. He has been allocated a chateau by Napoleon which is in need of repair and the appointed architect is young and attractive. The girl gets hold of a copy of Justine and seduces the young man and they run off together.

Meanwhile the Abbé is shocked to learn that the Marquis has arranged for the publication of Justine but he persuades Royer to allow him to continue with his approach on gaining an undertaking from De Sade to behave. As the relationship between Royer and the young girl becomes the subject of gossip De Sade writes a new play from that advertised to be performed and this highlights the behaviour of the Royer. He immediately closes the theatre and demands action be taken against De Sade who has his books, furniture wine, writing paper and quills removed to leave a bare cell.

At the play Winslet is sexually assaulted by one of the residents but fends him off with an iron. De Sade continues to write using his clothing and bed sheets using is blood and then his excrement. He is tortured by Royer who turns his aggression on the institution when his wife runs off. He whips Winslet when he learns from a jealous member of staff that she has and is assisting the Marquis. Kate and the Abbé are on the verge of becoming lovers when he is filled with remorse with his intention to sin. Later when Kate is killed he has a fantasy of having sex with her dead body.

The Abbé continues to try and change De Sade and at one point gives crucifix which de Sade uses to commit suicide. De Sade is played by the brilliant Geoffrey Rush who is a tall man in good shape for his years. De Sade was comparative short and fat at this time.

The film ends with an effectively swap of roles as in Holy Smoke. It is the Abbé who occupies the former cell as De Sade and who writes away, under the spirit of the Master. The new head of the establishment proudly shows off the fact that the inmates have become subdued and work constructively on a printing press book production company. Their output is the writings of De Sade.

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