Hell will hold no surprises for them . . .
1971 was quite a year for controversial films – from Stanley Kubrick’s dystopian A Clockwork Orange to Sam Peckinpah’s blood drenched Straw Dogs to Luchino Visconti’s adaption of Death In Venice, but none had the impact of Ken Russell’s historical drama The Devils which graphically portrayed violence, sexuality and religion in a way that hasn’t been seen before or since. The Devils has often been recognised as one of the most controversial films of all time by numerous critics and publications.
The Devils caused an uproar from censors, was banned in numerous countries whilst being heavily edited in other countries, where the original uncut version has still not been shown. The explicit sexual and violent content, paired with its commentary on religious institutions, resulted in significant censorship across most countries which still continues today.
The film tells the true story of the possession of the nuns in Loudun in 17th century France and the fall of the Roman Catholic priest Urbain Grandier who was accused of witchcraft.
At the films’ heart is the political grab for power by Cardinal Richelieu by trying to influence King Louis XIII that the fortifications of cities throughout France should be demolished to prevent Protestants from rising up. Louis agrees, but forbids Richelieu from carrying out demolitions in the town of Loudun having made a promise to its Governor not to damage the town.
Meanwhile, in Loudun, the Governor has died, leaving control of the city to Urbain Grandier, a dissolute, proud and popular priest who champions the defence of the town.
Ultimately, Grandier is falsely accused of witchcraft which is fanned by the local convent abbess Sister Jeanne des Anges a neurotic hunchback, who is sexually obsessed with him. In the meantime the nuns of her convent degenerate into a possessed frenzy which calls for an inquisitor to be summoned who commences interrogations of those possessed.
Grandier is brought to trial, which is nothing more than a show trial.
His fate is sealed and after being found guilty is subjected to horrendous tortures to force his confession and then he is executed by being burnt at the stake; whereupon at his death the walls of Loudun are then blown up.
It would be fair to say that The Devils is not for everyone. It’s hysterical nature, the confronting violence and the combination of religious themes and violent sexual imagery make it a serious challenge for viewers.
The film also arguably boasts Oliver Reed’s best performance on film. Reed had a prodigious talent which he dissipated over the years with his infamous boozy antics, but here he is full of passion and conviction, in a totally memorable performance.
I usually end my weekly movie post with Enjoy. In the case maybe Endure.