The Devils (1971)

Genres - Historical Film  |   Sub-Genres - Period Film, Religious Drama  |   Run Time - 109 min.  |   Countries - UK  |  
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Considered by many to be Ken Russell's best film (and by others to be simply unwatchable), The Devils is an undeniably powerful and unforgettable cinematic experience. Rarely has so much anger and outrage been poured into a film (or directed at a film by its detractors) -- and rarely has a film offered so much to surely offend and shock so many. Russell, of course, is the king of excess, and so it's no surprise that restraint is severely lacking in The Devils. What is surprising is how effective the film is; while one may be repulsed by it or disagree with its sometimes simplistic political views, it's still a film that rushes over and overwhelms the viewer, taking him or her prisoner and refusing to let go. It's the kind of effect that Russell tries so hard for and so often fails to achieve, but his success here is truly impressive. No less impressive is Oliver Reed's towering performance, arguably the finest of his career, and a prime example of how an actor can work in the Russell "style" and still manage to find myriad levels within his character. Reed is both charismatic and sympathetic, two qualities not always associated with a man who tended to play heavies, and he understands the ironic comedic tone that Russell is using in The Devils perfectly. Russell is also aided by Derek Jarman's stunning, anachronistic, gorgeous sets, of which the director takes full advantage. Disturbing and grotesque, The Devils is nonetheless enthralling.