Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Redmond Barry meets the Countess of Lyndon

Hard to believe Stanley Kubrick's BARRY LYNDON is 40 years old this year. I have just been looking at the Blu-ray, its still a towering achievement and certainly one of the greatest costume dramas ever, as Kubrick recreates the 18th Century before our eyes - we certainly liked it at the time. After the enormous success of 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY and the controversy over A CLOCKWORK ORANGE a lot of people were baffled that he next turned to a hefty 18th century novel by Thackeray (who also wrote "Vanity Fair" about another operator making their way through society, though Becky Sharp seemed sharper than Barry, who is often seen as a bit dim here). It seems Kubrick could only get the finance from Warner Bros if he cast his hero from a list of 'names' of the time, but only Robert Redford and Ryan O'Neal were suitable. Redford passed, so Ryan it was. He is actually quite right here, and does what Kubrick needed from him. Marisa Berenson is also perfectly right as the pallid, passive Countess.

An Irish rogue wins the heart of a rich widow and assumes her dead husband's aristocratic position in 18th-century England, or:
In the Eighteenth Century, in a small village in Ireland, Redmond Barry is a young farm boy in love with his cousin Nora Brady. When Nora gets engaged to the British Captain John Quin, Barry challenges him to a duel of pistols. He wins and escapes to Dublin but is robbed on the road. Without an alternative, Barry joins the British Army to fight in the Seven Years War. He deserts and is forced to join the Prussian Army where he saves the life of his captain and becomes his protégé and spy of the Irish gambler Chevalier de Balibari. He helps Chevalier and becomes his associate until he decides to marry the wealthy Lady Lyndon. They move to England and Barry, in his obsession of nobility, dissipates her fortune and makes a dangerous and revengeful enemy.

I love that whole sequence of where they meet at the gambling table (the painted faces, the wigs, the candles burning), after he earlier noticing her in the lawns with her old husband in a bath-chair, with her young son, Viscount Bullingdon, and his tutor, Murray Melvin again, as Reverend Runt. This is a fabulous scene as Barry and the Countess lock eyes over the cards, as that music throbs, and he follows her out on the balcony where they come together like a pair of marionettes whose wires are being pulled by unseen hands ....
Add in the great Marie Kean as Barry's mother, Hardy Kruger, Patrick Magee as the Chevalier, Frank Middlemass, Andre Morell, Leonard Rossiter and Steven Berkoff and others and all the characters are compulsive too. It is over three hours long but one wants to watch it slowly, revelling in what we we see, as the 18th Century conducts itself in war and at the gambling tables, idling their time away. The battles scenes are stupendous too, as drilled by Kubrick, and lensed by John Alcott, with Ken Adam's production design, and that music by Schubert, Vivaldi, Bach, Mozart, Handel, and traditional Irish tunes by The Chieftians. The candle-lit interiors and seemingly natural lighting of course were sensational and revolutionary at the time, Even now, the candle-lit interiors in the BBC series WOLF HALL are considered too dark and murky! 
It is telling at the end that the date on the money order the Countess is writing for her absent husband is the date of the French Revolution: 1789. Changes would be happening to these idle classes. The end title says it all, as narrated dryly by Michael Hordern.
BARRY LYNDON is a great companion piece to Richardson's TOM JONES, that other sprawling novel and marvellous film about another 18th century rogue!


  1. I totally agree with all you say. I watched both BARRY LYNDON and TOM JONES last year and they remain two great examples of the costume film. Interesting that you mention WOLF HALL, (I love it), which is among the most visually beautiful of all television period pieces.

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