Barry Lyndon (1975)

Perhaps Stanley Kubrick's most underrated film, Barry Lyndon - adapted from the picaresque novel by William Makepeace Thackeray - inhabits the 18th Century in the way A Clockwork Orange and 2001: A Space Odyssey inhabit the future, with perfect sets, costumes and cinematography trapping characters whose rises and falls are at once deeply tragic and absurdly comical. Narrated in avuncular form by Michael Hordern, the film follows the fortunes of Redmond Barry (Ryan O'Neal), a handsome Irish youth forced to flee his home-town after a duel with a cowardly English officer (Leonard Rossiter). Stripped of his small fortune by a deferential highwayman, Barry joins the British army and fights in the Seven Years War, attempting a desertion that leads him into the Prussian army. A position as a spy on an exqusitely painted con-man (Patrick Magee) leads to a life of gambling around the courts of Europe, and just before the intermission our hero achieves all he could want by marrying a wealthy, titled beautiful widow (Marisa Berenson). However, Part Two reveals that Barry can no more be a clockwork orange than the protagonist of Kubrick's previous film, and his spendthrift ways, foolhardy pursuit of social advancement and unwise treatment of his new family lead to several disasters, climaxing in another horrific, yet farcical duel. Shot almost entirely in the 'magic hour', that point of the day when the light is mistily perfect, with innovative use of candlelight for interiors, Barry Lyndon looks ravishing, but the perfection of its images is matched by the inner turmoil of its seemingly frozen characters. Kubrick is often accused of being unemotional, but his restraint is all the more affecting, as when Barry is struck by the deaths of those close to him, his wife writhes into madness or his stepson (Leon Vitali) vomits before he can stand his ground in a duel.
KIM NEWMAN

First Published On: Amazon.co.uk


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