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Barry Lyndon (reissue)


Stars: Ryan O'Neal, Marisa Berenson, Hardy Krüger, Patrick Magee, Steven Berkoff, Gay Hamilton, André Morell, Leonard Rossiter, Ferdy Mayne

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Kubrick's painterly 18th century romantic epic is very long, very beautiful, but, still today something of a white elephant. With many scenes shot by candlelight, backgrounds are predictably Old Master-esque in William Makepeace Thackeray's tale of an Irish soldier-of-fortune, originally named Redmond Barry (O'Neal), who rises in society after a chequered career. Unfortunately, the developments in the story are also predictable and, it must be added, dwelt on at some leisure by the director, who ends with what must be the longest and most exhausting duel scene on record, defeating even the one in Scaramouche.

And it's immediately preceded by a dreadful old tear-jerker deathbed scene of grotesque proportions.

But I digress. All goes well for a while, with an account of Barry's early life and eventual enlistment in the British army. Some good action scenes here, but, once out of the army, Barry's fortunes, and those of the film, go from bad to worse.

The immobile O'Neal does his very best in the title role, but it has to be said that even this is inadequate. Supporting acting is competent without hitting any heights and bringing forth any outstanding portrayals. Murray Melvin's cold and vindictive priest is the best of what there is. Michael Hordern's narration, however, is finely spoken and it is only a pity that much of it anticipates the plot.

Kubrick's direction is care itself, but almost every scene is allowed to linger longer than it should. It's almost as if Sergio Leone had directed Tom Jones. The film won four technical Oscars, including one for John Alcott's sumptuous photography.

David Quinlan

UK 1975. UK Distributor: BFI. Eastman Colour.
187 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 29 Jul 2016