The Devils (1971 – DVD)

“Call me vain and proud, the greatest sinner ever to walk God’s earth, but Satan’s boy I could never be. I haven’t the humility”

I was eagerly waiting for the chance to see Ken Russell’s infamous 1971 film ‘The Devils’ in any format or length as it has largely been unavailable to watch for my generation.  Okay it’s only on DVD and okay it’s still only the censored 1971 UK X-Certificate cut (But still the least censored version to ever get a full Cinema release) but at least we can all watch it again.  In a time when dubiously free access is available for almost any song or movie ever created via the internet, it is astonishing that a work of popular art can still be denied to the masses because a studio believes we should not be allowed to view it.

Being a crazy 70s film from the mind of Russell, I feared it would be a difficult if improving watch but no, it is a joy from start to finish.  The costumes are a seemless marriage of theatrical flamboyance and demented historical detail.  Derek Jarman’s vast modernist set is a wonder to behold, all stark gleaming white tiles adorning walls of an almost fascistic scale.  Vanessa Redgrave is deliciously vile as the wicked, obsessive and (Literally) twisted head of the local convent.  But the crowning glory of ‘The Devils’ is Oliver Reed’s powerful performance as Grandier, a priest with a love of sin almost as great as his love of his people and of his god.  Reed strides through the film delivering passionate speeches that would move any sane man, but sadly the other characters are anything but.  Like ‘The Exorcist’ which followed two years later, ‘The Devils’ is a film about evil that features shocking blasphemy but like that film it is not a blasphemous film.  ‘The Devils’ is a celebration of a man’s faith in God when faced with a world of rotten and degraded lies.  Russell clearly identifies Grandier’s final stand with Christ’s own story and it left me thinking the world might be a better place if people spent more time admiring Christ’s humanity than praising his divinity.

‘The Devils’ is without a shadow of a doubt one of the greatest films ever made and hopefully all across the land a new wave of people like me who were not old enough to have seen ‘The Devils’ in the cinema in the early 70s will have loved this DVD too.  Judging by the fact that every shop I went into in central London had initially sold out and that it featured in the Amazon-Bestsellers list, I’d say it was a success again. Having seen the public vote with their wallets, I’m eager to see if Warner Brothers will allow a fully restored, fully uncut Blu-Ray to see the light of day in the near future.

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