Rush Makes the Marquis in 'Quills'
By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 15, 2000
Can a great character lead you all the way through an average movie, specifically one that holds its social commentary to the light with a certain grandiosity? Even one that takes an ill-advised narrative turn toward the end? In the case of "Quills," why, sure he can. After all, he's the Marquis
de Sade! And Geoffrey Rush plays this rascal to the magnificent hilt.
Geoffrey Rush is the devilish Marquis de Sade in "Quills."
(20th Century Fox)
It's not that the movie, directed by Philip Kaufman, is bad; far from it.
It's just that Rush is too sinfully good for the drama he's in. As the
dandyish, gone-to-seed philosopher and writer of sexually graphic novellas,
he's not just keeping a step ahead of his outraged enemies, led by the puffy,
bilious Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine). He's also trying to keep ahead of
this movie's attempts to enshrine him as the great moralist of his time.
It's 1794 in Paris, and this time the marquis has gone too far. Napoleon
Bonaparte himself has taken offense at his lurid works, which the marquis
pens at a prodigious rate at the Charenton Asylum for the Insane.
The marquis delivers his manuscripts to the publishers via laundry hamper
delivered by one of his biggest fans, a sweet-natured laundress named
Madeleine (Kate Winslet).
Clearly something's amiss at the asylum, which is under the benevolent
supervision of the progressive-thinking Abbe Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix). So
Dr. Royer-Collard, a prestigious physician with rigid ideas about mental
health, comes to the asylum determined to "cure" the marquis of his problem. The doctor's methods include frequent use of a "calming chair," which repeatedly dunks its strapped-in
patient in a tank of freezing water.
In this satiric near-pantomime (which Doug Wright adapted from his play),
the doctor happens to have some dark pleasures of his own, involving a young
girl he has pulled from a convent to be his less-than-willing sex slave and
wife. When the marquis learns about the doctor's little secret, he has the
inmates put on a satiric play called "The Crimes of Love," just to infuriate
Of course, this means war. And the poor, conscientious Abbe finds himself
caught between the wills of two very strong men. Can the marquis outwit the
doctor in this life-or-death political game? And just how far is he prepared
to go, when they take away his parchment, quill and ink? If you have delicate
sensibilities, you don't want to know.
The less said about the movie's fourth-quarter focus on the harried, delicate Coulmier, the better. After all, it's the marquis who rules. Whether he's pawing rapaciously at Madeleine
while she reads his colorful writings or hissing sharp rebukes to his enemies ("Have you read
it through?" he asks the doctor about his latest work. "Or did you turn
straight away to the dog-eared pages?"), he's the king of this grimy hill, the cock of the walk.
"Quills" (R, 124 minutes) Contains graphic sexual language, nudity,
scatological material, sex scenes and violence.