Condemned as a work of “revolting immorality”, the French novel was promptly banned by the very society it described, which of course didn’t stop it being voraciously devoured for the next 200 years.
One day the Marquise (Glenn Close) comes to the Vicomte (John Malkovich) with an assignment. She has lost a lover who left her to marry an innocent Cecile (a very young Uma Thurman). She wishes the Vicomte to seduce the young woman before she can bear her virginity to the marital bed. The Vicomte accepts the dare and dispatches himself to the country, where, however, he eventually sets his sights on another young woman instead, the virtuous Madame de Tourvel (Michelle Pfeiffer).
The stage version, adapted by British playwright Christopher Hampton, won the 1986 Olivier Award, and then, of course, came Stephen Frears’ film, and thirty years after release its potency still fills the air. Frears’ smoothly assured direction punches the witty lines in Hampton’s production to the big screen, and that fabulous cast doesn’t miss a single cue in its delivery. (Jack Whiting)