It is 17th France and a noble, principled Catholic Priest who has all too familiar human failings, stands up the corrupt and divisive Cardinal Richelieu in his attempt to persecute the Huguenot “heresy” which affected the West of the country.
Ken Russell’s picture caused a furore on it’s 1971 release and was banned by no less than 17 Local Authorities in England due to the charge that it offended religion.
I can imagine that to the narrow minded, and those who are insecure about what they believe that Devils would offend their sensibilities, but they are the ones to lose out as Russell asks some very important questions about blind faith in anything, not just religion.
All the Great Themes of Humanity are there, stripping it back to basic issues of right versus wrong, and the contexts that provoke extreme human behaviour. In this case religious zealotry, persecution and the exercise of power.
Oliver Reed plays Grandier, a Priest who finds his celibacy vows hard to take, and uses his power to seduce women but when it comes down to it, he is prepared to do the right thing by the people in his town, and at great personal cost as he argues that persecution of Protestants is unjust. The heavy mob are sent down by Richelieu and Grandier is subject to the equivalent of the Inquisition (although the casting of Brian Murphy rather threw me) and charged with Witch Craft.
The imposition of central Government fears about a misunderstood religious minority, over the experiences of the locals has a ring to it in our era, given the way in which British Muslims have Pariah status and are used by the Government as a scapegoat for repression and the erosion of individual Liberty due to the actions of a miniscule minority.
This film stands the test of time and is in my view as good as those other British Classics of 1971; A Clockwork Orange and Get Carter.
Russell is intent on pushing the boundaries, often for the sake of it, but were it not for films like this Modern Cinema would be anodyne and compliant. And in our times it needs to be anything but.