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National Theatre Live at the Pickford presents Les Liaisons Dangereuses (2016)

liaisons

I am so glad this is a text format and I don’t have to try to pronounce this title for you.

NT Live always does an amazing job, and Les Liaisons Dangereuses is no exception. The play by Christopher Hampton is based on the 1782 epistolary novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, and I came in with little prior knowledge of either play or novel: I did see a certain 1999 Hollywood movie based on the same plot, which I’m a little embarrassed to admit, but that’s the background I had coming in. And actually, the feel of the thing was recognizable, although the sumptuous costuming of NT Live’s period-appropriate version was a decided improvement.

In brief: this is a very sexual and sexy play. I find the Pickford‘s plot summary too perfect not to simply repost here.

Former lovers, the Marquise de Merteuil and Vicomte de Valmont now compete in games of seduction and revenge. Merteuil incites Valmont to corrupt the innocent Cecile de Volanges before her wedding night but Valmont has targeted the peerlessly virtuous and beautiful Madame de Tourvel. While these merciless aristocrats toy with others’ hearts and reputations, their own may prove more fragile than they supposed.

It is a story of sex, power, gender politics, revenge and spite. I have said before that the NT Live screenings sometimes come with too much exposition – that is, speechifying before the play and during intermission – but in this case I enjoyed and benefited from the background. Playwright Hampton makes some interesting points about the original being a feminist novel; I saw this interpretation in his strong female star, who may not be always likeable but certainly knows her own mind, and works with great awareness against the confines of her society.

This is more than a simple soap opera of who slept with whom and who was angry about it. Although I think it works, and titillates, on that level, I found it rather more political than shallow. And visually gorgeous, and emotive, and affecting; and as always with NT Live, the acting was outstanding and the cinematography perfect. Sorry, I’m raving again. But again, catch some NT Live if you can!


Rating: 8 letters.

2 Responses

  1. This story obviously has a lot of staying power. In addition to the “famous” version of the movie came out (John Malkovich, Glenn Close), another theatrical version came out the *same year*, titled simply “Valmont” and starring Annette Bening and Colin Firth. I always felt bad that that version didn’t get more attention, but it was unlucky timing.

    Then there’s the updated “Cruel Intentions” with Sarah Michelle Gellar, the same story with some very precocious high school students, which came out in 1999. And it’s my understanding it may be turned into a television show soon, with SMG reprising her role, and having it center on Valmont’s child.

    People can’t get enough of this story, it seems! I’m surprised I haven’t seen it as an opera or ballet yet. 🙂

    • Indeed. Cruel Intentions was my first exposure to the story. I’m sure it’s in all kinds of operatic and ballet forms, you just haven’t made it yet!

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