Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Stephen Frears|
|Produced by||Norma Heyman
|Written by||Christopher Hampton|
|Music by||George Fenton|
|Edited by||Mick Audsley|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Box office||$34.7 million|
Dangerous Liaisons is a 1988 historical drama film based upon Christopher Hampton's play Les liaisons dangereuses, which in turn was a theatrical adaptation of the 18th-century French novel Les Liaisons dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos.
The film was directed by Stephen Frears. The performances of Glenn Close, John Malkovich and Michelle Pfeiffer, the cinematography of Philippe Rousselot, the costume design by James Acheson, and the screenplay by Christopher Hampton, garnered critical acclaim. Swoosie Kurtz, Mildred Natwick and Peter Capaldi appeared in supporting roles, as did young relatively unknown actors Keanu Reeves and Uma Thurman.
In pre-Revolution Paris, the Marquise de Merteuil (Glenn Close) plots revenge against her ex-lover, the Comte de Gercourt, who has ended their relationship. An amoral, sexually ravenous schemer, Merteuil amuses herself by manipulating men out of boredom, and her resentment of the subservient status of women in 18th-century French aristocratic society. To soothe her wounded pride and embarrass Gercourt, she seeks to arrange the seduction and disgrace of his young virgin fiancée, Cécile de Volanges (Uma Thurman), who has only recently been presented to society after spending her formative years in the shelter of a convent.
Merteuil calls on the rakish and similarly unprincipled Vicomte de Valmont (John Malkovich) to do the deed, offering him her own sexual favors as the reward for a successful conquest. Valmont declines, as he has a seduction of his own in progress: Madame de Tourvel (Michelle Pfeiffer), the virtuous wife of a member of Parliament. Merteuil is amused and incredulous at Valmont's hubris; how can he ever hope to bed a chaste, devoutly religious woman like Madame Tourvel? Never one to refuse a challenge, Valmont modifies the proposal: If he succeeds in sleeping with Tourvel, Merteuil must sleep with him as well. Merteuil accepts, on the condition that he furnish written proof of the liaison.
At the estate of Valmont's aunt, Madame de Rosemonde (Mildred Natwick), where Tourvel is living as a guest while her husband is away on state business, Valmont employs every trick in his considerable repertoire in a vain attempt to attract Tourvel's attention. Searching for leverage, he instructs his page (Peter Capaldi) to seduce Tourvel's maid (Valerie Gogan) to gain access to Tourvel's private correspondence. One of the letters he intercepts is from Madame de Volanges (Swoosie Kurtz), Cécile's mother and Merteuil's cousin, warning Tourvel that Valmont is a cad, and a generally nefarious and untrustworthy individual. On reading this, Valmont resolves to do Merteuil's dirty work after all, seducing Cécile as revenge for her mother's only-too-accurate denunciation of him. Meanwhile, Cécile meets the charming Chevalier Raphael Danceny (Keanu Reeves). Danceny becomes Cécile's music teacher and slowly, with a little coaxing from Merteuil (who knows that Danceny, a poor commoner, can never qualify as a bona fide suitor), they fall in love.
Valmont's connived seduction of Cécile is rapid and unsubtle. After gaining access to her bedchamber on a false pretense, he forces himself upon her as she pleads with him to leave. The following night he attempts to enter her room again, but she has barred her door. On the pretext of illness she remains locked in her chambers, refusing all visitors. A concerned Madame de Volanges calls upon Merteuil to speak to her. Cécile, naively assuming that Merteuil has her best interests at heart, confides in her. Merteuil advises Cécile to welcome Valmont's advances; young women should take advantage of all the lovers they can acquire, she says, in a society so repressive and contemptuous of women. The result is a perverse "student-teacher" relationship between Cécile and Valmont; by day she is courted by Danceny, and each night she receives a sexual "lesson" from Valmont. In the meantime, Merteuil seduces Danceny and begins an affair with him.
Ever mindful of Merteuil's challenge, Valmont's principal target remains Madame de Tourvel, and during his time as Cécile's "teacher" he somehow manages to win Tourvel's heart—but at a cost: Valmont, the lifelong bachelor playboy, falls in love. In a fit of jealousy, Merteuil mocks Valmont for having succumbed to Tourvel's charms. She also refuses to honor her end of their agreement, since Valmont has no written proof that the relationship has been consummated. Valmont, faced with Merteuil's threat to trash his reputation as a carefree gigolo, abruptly dismisses Tourvel with a terse excuse: "It is beyond my control". Cécile, meanwhile, after a particularly rough night in Valmont's bed, miscarries his child.
Tourvel, overwhelmed with grief and shame, retires to a convent where her health deteriorates inexorably, and she eventually dies. The Valmont-Merteuil toxicity escalates. Valmont learns of Merteuil's seduction of Danceny and warns him of her perfidy; Merteuil retaliates by informing Danceny that Valmont has been sleeping with Cécile. Danceny challenges Valmont to a duel, and mortally wounds him. On his deathbed, Valmont asks Danceny to communicate to Tourvel—by now also at death's door—his genuine love for her. He then gives Danceny his collection of intimate letters from Merteuil; all of Paris learns the entire, grisly range of her schemes and depredations. Booed and humiliated at the opéra by her former friends and sycophants, Merteuil flees the city in disgrace. Cécile, guilt-ridden, returns to the convent whence she came to become a nun.
- Glenn Close as Marquise de Merteuil
- John Malkovich as Vicomte de Valmont
- Michelle Pfeiffer as Madame de Tourvel, wife of Dijon de Tourvel
- Swoosie Kurtz as Madame de Volanges, mother of Cécile and cousin to Merteuil.
- Keanu Reeves as Le Chevalier Raphael Danceny, courtier to Cécile.
- Mildred Natwick as Madame de Rosemonde, Valmont's aunt
- Uma Thurman as Cécile de Volanges, daughter of Madame de Volanges
- Peter Capaldi as Azolan, page of Valmont
Dangerous Liaisons was the first English-language film adaptation of Laclos's novel, and was based on Christopher Hampton's Olivier Award-winning and Tony Award-nominated theatrical adaptation for the Royal Shakespeare Company, directed by Howard Davies and featuring Lindsay Duncan, Alan Rickman and Juliet Stevenson.
The film was shot entirely on location in France, specifically in the region Île-de-France, and featured historical buildings such as the Château de Vincennes in Val-de-Marne, the Château de Champs-sur-Marne, the Château de Guermantes in Seine-et-Marne, the Château du Saussay in Essonne, and the Théâtre Montansier in Versailles.
The score of Dangerous Liaisons was written by the British film music composer George Fenton. The soundtrack also includes works by a number of baroque and classical composers, reflecting the story's 18th-Century-French setting; pieces by Antonio Vivaldi, Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel and Christoph Willibald Gluck feature prominently, although no French composers are included.
|1||Dangerous Liaisons Main Title/"Dressing"||George Fenton|
|2||"Madame De Tourvel"||George Fenton|
|3||"The Challenge"||George Fenton|
|4||"O Malheureuse Iphigénie!", from Iphigénie en Tauride||Christoph Willibald Gluck|
|5||"Going Hunting" – "Allegro" from Organ Concerto No. 13, "The Cuckoo and the Nightingale"||George Frideric Handel, arr.George Fenton|
|6||"Valmont's First Move"/"The Staircase"||George Fenton|
|7||"Beneath The Surface"||George Fenton|
|8||"The Set Up"||George Fenton|
|9||"The Key"||George Fenton|
|10||"Her Eyes Are Closing"||George Fenton|
|11||"Ombra mai fu", from Serse||George Frideric Handel|
|12||"Tourvel's Flight"||George Fenton|
|15||"Beyond My Control"||George Fenton|
|16||"A Final Request"||George Fenton|
|17||"Ombra Mai Fu" reprise/"The Mirror"||George Frideric Handel/George Fenton|
|18||Dangerous Liaisons End Credits||George Fenton|
|19||"Allegro" from Concerto in a Minor For Four Harpsichords, BWV 1065||Johann Sebastian Bach|
Pauline Kael in The New Yorker described it as "heaven – alive in a way that movies rarely are." Hal Hinson in the Washington Post wrote that the film's "wit and immediacy is extraordinarily rare in a period film. Instead of making the action seem far off, the filmmakers put the audience in the room with their characters." Roger Ebert called it "an absorbing and seductive movie." Variety considered it an "incisive study of sex as an arena for manipulative power games." Vincent Canby in The New York Times hailed it as a "kind of lethal drawing-room comedy."
Christopher Hampton received critical acclaim for his screenplay, with Time Out writing that "one of the film's enormous strengths is scriptwriter Christopher Hampton's decision to go back to the novel, and save only the best from his play." James Acheson and Stuart Craig were also praised for their work, with Sheila Benson of the Los Angeles Times stating that "the film's details of costuming (by The Last Emperor's James Acheson) and production design (by Stuart Craig of Gandhi and The Mission) are ravishing." All three would go on to win Academy Awards for their work on this film.
Glenn Close received considerable praise for her performance; she was lauded by The New York Times for her "richness and comic delicacy," while Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote that, once she "finally lets loose and gives way to complete animal despair, Close is horrifying." Roger Ebert thought the two lead roles were "played to perfection by Close and Malkovich... their arch dialogues together turn into exhausting conversational games, tennis matches of the soul."
Michelle Pfeiffer was also widely acclaimed for her portrayal, despite playing, in the opinion of the Washington Post, "the least obvious and the most difficult" role. "Nothing is harder to play than virtue, and Pfeiffer is smart enough not to try. Instead, she embodies it." The New York Times called her performance a "happy surprise." Roger Ebert, considering the trajectory of her career, wrote that "in a year that has seen her in varied assignments such as Married to the Mob and Tequila Sunrise, the movie is more evidence of her versatility. She is good when she is innocent and superb when she is guilty." Pfeiffer would later win a British Academy Film Award for her performance.
The casting of John Malkovich proved to be a controversial decision that divided critics. The New York Times, while admitting there was the "shock of seeing him in powdered wigs", concluded that he was "unexpectedly fine. The intelligence and strength of the actor shape the audience's response to him." The Washington Post was similarly impressed with Malkovich's performance: "There's a sublime perversity in Frears' casting, especially that of Malkovich... [he] brings a fascinating dimension to his character that would be missing with a more conventionally handsome leading man." Variety was less impressed, stating that while the "sly actor conveys the character's snaky, premeditated Don Juanism... he lacks the devilish charm and seductiveness one senses Valmont would need to carry off all his conquests."
Awards and nominations
At the 61st Academy Awards, Dangerous Liaisons won three Oscars out of seven nominations, for Best Adapted Screenplay (Christopher Hampton), Best Costume Design (James Acheson), and Best Art Direction (Stuart Craig and Gérard James). Its four unsuccessful nominations were for Best Actress (Glenn Close), Best Supporting Actress (Michelle Pfeiffer), Best Original Score (George Fenton), and the Academy Award for Best Picture. Director Stephen Frears and lead actor John Malkovich were not nominated.
At the 43rd British Academy Film Awards, Michelle Pfeiffer won for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, and Christopher Hampton won for Best Screenplay. The film received a further eight nominations, in the categories of Best Direction (Stephen Frears), Best Actress in a Leading Role (Close), Best Cinematography (Philippe Rousselot), Best Costume Design (Acheson), Best Original Film Score (Fenton), Best Editing (Mick Audsley), Best Make Up Artist (Jean-Luc Russier) and Best Production Design (Craig).
In addition to his Oscar and BAFTA awards, Christopher Hampton also won the London Film Critics' Circle Award for Screenwriter of the Year, and the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.
Stephen Frears won the César Award for Best Foreign Film and Best Director from the Boston Society of Film Critics. The film was second only to Mississippi Burning in the National Board of Review's Top 10 films.
Three decades before Dangerous Liaisons, Roger Vadim adapted the Laclos novel into Les Liaisons dangereuses, a French film starring Jeanne Moreau, Gérard Philipe and Annette Vadim. Less than a year after Dangerous Liaisons was released, Miloš Forman adapted the novel into Valmont, starring Colin Firth in the title role, Annette Bening, and Meg Tilly.
In 1999, Roger Kumble adapted the novel into Cruel Intentions, a drama involving Prep School students in New York, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe and Reese Witherspoon as well as a cameo from Dangerous Liaisons cast member Swoosie Kurtz. In 2003, Untold Scandal, a South Korean adaptation, was released; it was set in the same time as the original novel, but in the Kingdom of Joseon. In 2012, a Chinese adaptation, "Dangerous Liaisons (危險關係)," was released, directed by Hur Jin-ho, a Korean director, and starring Zhang Ziyi.
Almost 25 years after he played Valmont, John Malkovich directed a French-language version of Christopher Hampton's play in Paris, which ran at the Théâtre de l'Atelier. In December 2012, the production is being brought to Lansburgh Theatre by the Shakespeare Theatre Company for a limited run in Washington D.C.
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- "Dangerous Liaisons Review". variety.com. 1988-01-01. Retrieved 2009-11-08.
- Canby, Vincent (December 21, 1988). "Passion in the Ancien Régime". The New York Times.
- "Dangerous Liaisons". Time Out London. Retrieved 2009-11-08.
- "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" (in French). Théâtre de l'Atelier. Retrieved 2012-11-12.
- Trueman, Matt (3 February 2012). "John Malkovich directs Dangerous Liaisons on stage". The Guardian. Retrieved 2012-11-12.
- Jones, Kenneth (November 6, 2012). "John Malkovich's French-Language Staging of Les Liaisons Dangereuses Will Dawn in DC in December". Playbill. Retrieved 2012-11-12.
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