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  Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum at Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade, The You Don't Have To Be Mad To Work Here
Year: 1967
Director: Peter Brook
Stars: Patrick Magee, Ian Richardson, Michael Williams, Clifford Rose, Glenda Jackson, Freddie Jones, Hugh Sullivan, John Hussey, William Morgan Sheppard, Jonathan Burn, Jeanette Landis, John Steiner, Henry Woolf, Leon Lissek
Genre: Horror, Musical, Drama, HistoricalBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: The year is 1808 and the Marquis de Sade (Patrick Magee), judged to be insane by dint of his debauchery, has been sent to the Charenton asylum for the rest of his life, but manages to amuse himself by writing and staging plays starring his fellow inmates. Plays such as the one he is putting on today, where he tells the story of Jean-Paul Marat (Ian Richardson), who was one of the instigators of the French Revolution fifteen years before but who never lived to see it come to fruition thanks to being murdered in the bath where he was confined due to his terrible skin condition. The head of the establishment (Clifford Rose) remains concerned, however...

And he has good reason to be, especially as he took the mentally dubious decision to watch the play along with his wife and daughter actually in the large room where it is being held, sitting next the wall as the action plays out mere inches from their noses. Just one of the curious choices in this, the memorise the notable title film version of the award-winning Peter Brook staging of the English translation of Peter Weiss's play which became legendary in theatrical circles for its ambition and arresting intelligence, not something that a few keen commentators thought was well translated to the cinema, and that in spite of Brook making it his business to helm the production himself for faithfulness' sake.

Being a filmed play, this was one of those movies which took place on a single set, and although it was a fairly large one the sense of claustrophobia that this can bring about was well to the fore here, except in this case the feeling of being trapped in the asylum and counting down the minutes until it all kicked off was all too palpable, leading many to identify it as a horror movie. Certainly Magee's glowering presence had lent credence to many works in that genre down the years, indeed as far as the movies went this respected theatre actor became typecast in such roles, so it was all too fitting that one of his finest screen appearances, if not the finest, would be in the depiction of what many would describe as a monster of sorts.

Although there was no proof the actual Marquis de Sade did instigate the behaviour seen here, and that perhaps the writers were offering him more literary powers than he possessed for the sake of the drama, the philosophical questions that the fictional incarnation relishes were fiercely thought-provoking. Even as the head administrator continually intervenes to stop things getting out of hand and making uncomfortable political truths less plain than the Marquis would like, the essential issues with the whole revolution business are easy to pick out. Mainly this boils down to the way that no matter how noble the ideals, as Marat's are shown to be, once the violence starts it's difficult to keep in check.

That is to say, even the revolutionaries should be watching their backs after the blood has started to flow, as those new faces in charge begin to behave just like those corrupt, even tyrannical, rulers they have deposed and probably executed. But it goes further than that as the inmates are inspired by de Sade's rhetoric, which puts the actors in an interesting position: they are playing two roles at once, one of the mentally deranged, and the other of the historical characters who have to make some dramatic sense in the play within a play. It's a tricky balancing act, but one of the impressive features was that we as the audience were always clear on which voice was speaking, undoubtedly managed by Brook retaining the services of so many of the theatre cast, including Glenda Jackson (on record as hating her role) as Marat's assassin in her film debut. Occasionally to convey the world spiralling out of control, whether within or without the asylum walls, this can get a little silly with all that face pulling, but the fact it held the attention for the full two hours - with songs! - indicated the success of the enterprise.

For brevity, aka: Marat/Sade
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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