(director/writer: Peter Brook; screenwriters: adapted from Peter Brook’s own Royal Shakespeare Company production of Peter Weiss’ play entitled The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates at Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade/; cinematographer: David Watkin; editor: Tom Priestley; music: Richard Peaslee; cast: Patrick Magee (Marquis de Sade), Clifford Rose (Monsieur Coubnier), Glenda Jackson (Charlotte Corday), Ian Richardson ( Jean-Paul Marat), Michael Williams (Herald), John Steiner (Monsieur Dupere), Freddie Jones (Cucurucu), Hugh Sullivan (Kokol), John Hussey (Newly Rich Woman), William Morgan Sheppard (A Mad Animal); Runtime: 115; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Michael Birkett; United Artists; 1967-UK)
“Though not as powerful as the play, even if there’s the same director and performers, it still connects with a modern audience.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This film adaptation of Peter Weiss’ Old Vic play, The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates at Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade is directed by Peter Brook (“King Lear”/”Lord of the Flies”/”The Beggar’s Opera”). The English version is performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company and is written by Adrian Mitchell from a translation by Geoffrey Skelton. The bizarre pic, reflecting the mood of the insane inmate actors to the Revolution 15 years earlier, is both splendidly brilliant and repellent. Though not as powerful as the play, even if there’s the same director and performers, it still connects with a modern audience. The long title, shortened to Marat/Sade, tells us all we need to know what the straightforward musical horror story/historical drama is about, as it offers some fascinating insights into the human condition, revolutions and the thirst for power.
In 1808, inmates at the Charenton asylum, just outside of Paris, put on a play by the loony bin’s most distinguished inmate, Marquis de Sade (Patrick Magee), who while serving a life sentence wrote the play about the assassination of French Revolutionary War firebrand Jean-Paul Marat (Ian Richardson) and his last days so others can judge the author’s sanity in spite of his extreme perverse failings and inmate status.
Monsieur Coubnier (Clifford Rose), the officious head of the Charenton asylum, during the Napoleon regime, perhaps not wisely has his wife and daughter in the audience, sitting behind bars, as he introduces the night’s show. In the intros we learn the peasant inmate Charlotte Corday (Glenda Jackson, her film debut and on record saying she hated her role as the assassin of Marat) is a narcoleptic, that Marat’s portrayer is a paranoiac, and another actor (William Morgan Sheppard), a sex degenerate priest during the Revolution, plays a wild animal kept in chains.
The gist of the film turns into a dialogue between Marat and De Sade, both early supporters of the Revolution but with different views on how to achieve its ends. Marat as a tyrannical idealist who reconsiders but still can’t understand what went wrong that brought about so much violence, and is slain in his bath before he could actually witness its success; while De Sade was more spontaneous in preaching his own version ofNietzschean existentialism for the Revolution to strive for. Things in the play lead to the inmates going berserk, as the unsettling mood of the Revolution’s uncontrollable fervor hits home in the institution once the barriers to restraint are breached and violence is unleashed just like it was in the streets of Paris during 1793.
REVIEWED ON 6/28/2014 GRADE: B+