Geoffrey Rush takes on the Marquis de Sade in Philip Kaufman’s extremely theatrical take on the notorious novelist/nobleman’s final years…in a wacky mental asylum. We have Kate Winslet as the naive young chambermaid, Joaquin Phoenix as the priest in love with her, and Michæl Caine as the, er, sadistic doctor treating this particularly difficult patient. Rush gleefully dives into the colourful, meaty role, relishing all the innuendo and vulgarity.
Phoenix and Winslet have more subtle characters who struggle with a myriad of internal issues. And with Oscars at either end of his mantlepiece, Caine simply goes into maniacal glowering cruise control. The film itself raises all sorts of interesting issues, and the ribaldry keeps us watching, grossing us out every now and then, just as we hope it will. But it’s all so artifical and over-designed that you never believe any of it for a second.