Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Director: Josie Rourke
Writer: Christopher Hampton
Based on: Pierre Choderlos de Laclos‘ epistolary novel
Cast: Dominic West, Janet McTeer, Elaine Cassidy, Morfydd Clark, Una Stubbs, Adjoah Ando, Edward Holcroft, Jennifer Saayeng
Seen on: 28.1.2016
[Prepare to get a whole lot of Liaisons things in the next few days.]
The Victome de Valmont (Dominic West) and the Marquise de Merteuil (Janet McTeer) are thick as thieves, united in their love to manipulate and destroy the people around them, a skill they have so artfully mastered that their ploys don’t fall back on them. Both have a new project: Valmont is trying to seduce Madame de Tourvel (Elaine Cassidy) who is staying at his aunt’s (Una Stubbs) summer home and who is widely known for her morals and her loyalty to her husband. The Marquise, on the other hand, is looking for revenge on an ex-lover who just got engaged to the naive Cécile (Morfydd Clark) who has spent pracitcally her entire life in a convent. So she enlists Valmont’s help to completely corrupt Cécile.
Les Liaisons Dangereuses is an almost perfect production of an almost perfect adaptation of one of my favorite novels. I absolutely loved it.
When they announced that they would show this play in the cinema, I would have jumped at the chance at seeing it even if it hadn’t included Rourke as the director or that wonderful cast. But this way, we pretty much got the perfect cocktail of everything. Hampton’s adaptation captures the spirit of the novel with seeming effortlessness, despite the fact that he had to shorten it substantially. But he remains close, sometimes even word for word, to the original text when he needs to and knows just when he can skip over bits. In this version of the story, we also got my absolutely favorite version of the ending. [SPOILER] The Marquise gets away with it. Not unshaken, not without her scratches, but she’s still standing in the end, she’s still playing. More female villains should get away with things. [/SPOILER]
That material is packaged into a production that is at once very reduced on a few props and not much to the set, but features lavish costumes and paintings. This echoes the stark morality of the 18th century that is at odds with the behavior of many people as the play argues – and definitely shows in Valmont and the Marquise. Additionally, just as they keep up appearances that start to crumble more and more as you watch the play, so the stage gets more and more exposed as well.
Dominic West and Janet McTeer are wonderfully cast in their respective roles. They really make the words sing. The text has never been as suggestive or as funny as the two of them make it. At the same time, they are fully up to the task of hitting the serious notes both of them get as well. It was a joy to watch, almost completely eclipsing the rest of the (fine) cast.
There were a few things that didn’t work for me that well. Madame de Tourvel’s reaction to Valmont’s actual seduction ([SPOILER] she basically starts seizing [/SPOILER]) was a bit much and Cécile’s “seduction” is still not so much a seduction as it is rape that is seen as seduction and the play doesn’t change or address that particular fuckery. But compared to the awesomeness of the rest, those are peanuts.