Even though there are times when The Last Duel seems to be teetering on the edge of parody — one almost expects Blackadder to be hatching cunning plans with Baldrick, this latest from the 83-year-old Ridley Scott is engaging and lovely to look at to boot.
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Based on Eric Jager’s non-fiction book on the last official judicial duel, The Last Duel: A True Story of Trial by Combat in Medieval France (2004), the screenplay by Nicole Holofcener, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon looks at history through a somewhat millennial, #MeToo prism.
On December 29, 1386, Sir Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) challenges his former friend and squire, Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) to duel to death after Carrouges’ wife Marguerite (Jodie Comer) accuses Le Gris of rape.
Divided into three chapters recounting the same events from the three principles’ (Carrouges, Le Gris and Marguerite) point of view, the film looks at systemic patriarchy and toxic masculinity. Some of the symbolism maybe rather heavy-handed and might cloud the waters a bit; Le Gris being stripped and strung up did have an oddly Christ-like look.
- Director: Ridley Scott
- Cast: Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer, Ben Affleck
- Story line: In medieval France, honour and truth are decided by the edge of a blade
- Run time: 153 minutes
Blond and snippy, Ben Affleck has the most fun as Count Pierre d’Alençon, who finds Carrouges no fun at all and prefers the well-read, but far from monkish Le Gris as his wine and wenching partner. Damon seems out of sorts as Carrouges —that truly awful haircut might have had something to do with it — while Driver is dishy as the probably rakish Le Gris. Comer makes for comely Marguerite, who stands firm in the face of all the casual misogyny.
The costumes are lovely and Dariusz Wolski’s cinematography is to die for. The infrequent battles (hopefully all the horses are CGI), are a good thing in these grim, hyper real days of mud and gore. The fights are interspersed with saas-bahu bickering, giggling, gossiping ladies in waiting, heaving bosoms, and longing looks cast across glittery corridors giving a faint soap opera sheen to the proceedings.
The Last Duel gives you a lot to think about and feast your eyes on. And if all that fails to engage one can always remember Blackadder telling Baldrick, he would not “recognise a subtle plan if it painted itself purple and danced naked on a harpsicord singing ‘subtle plans are here again’.”
The Last Duel is currently running in theatres