– Production Information –
“If the adventures here portrayed have
any basis whatsoever in .truth, I feel
sure that they Can:only-have occurred in
some other place and at some other time.”
Choderlos de Laclos
1741 – 1803
If he who lives by the sword also dies by the sword, then what of the man who lives by the powers of seduction?
Choderlos de Laclos first posed this question in his erotic novel, Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Ever since, readers of the French classic have been fascinated, charmed and astonished by the nimble sexual gamesmanship of the beautiful Marquise de Merteuil and her ex-lover, the Vicomte de Valmont.
These two may be the most ingenious players ever to take the field in the age-old war between the sexes. But be warned before you get involved with them: They take no prisoners.
In their latest incarnation, WarnerBros.’ screen version of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, entitled “Dangerous Liaisons,” Merteuil and Valmont are played by two of the most dexterous stars of the American screen, Glenn Close and John Malkovich, under the direction of Stephen Frears, whose previous films include “Prick Up Your Ears” and “My Beautiful Laundrette.”
The film is an adaptation of the celebrated play produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company that opened in New York in 1986 and stunned Broadway audiences with a dazzling series of psychological twists and a shocking resolution. The screenplay Is by playwright Christopher Hampton.
“Dangerous Liaisons” is set among the French aristocracy just prior to the French Revolution, a time of legendary decadence. The corseted .and perfumed characters are wealthy beyond reckoning and fully dedicated to the pursuit of their own pleasure. Yet they, learn that human emotions are not easily trifled with. As it spins a timeless plot of labyrinthine sexual intrigue, “Dangerous Liaisons” delves into the most private reaches of the psyche.
The complications begin when the exquisitely coiffed Marquise de Merteuil (GLENN CLOSE) asks an urgent favor of the roguish Vicomte de Valmont (JOHN MALKOVICH). She is
quietly seething with jealousy because her most recent lover, M. le Comte de Bastide, has left her to marry a virgin. Perhaps Valmont would be kind enough to help Merteuil take her revenge on-Bastide by seducing and deflowering Bastide’s
intended bride, the beautiful young Cecile de Volanges (UMA THURMAN), daughter of Madame de Volanges (SWOOSIE KURTZ).
But the treacherous-Merteuil quiCkly learns that Valmont, her intended pawn in this bizarre scheme, has other plans. Valmont has set his sights upon the much more challenging seduction of a beautiful married woman, Madame de Tourvel (MICHELLE PFEIFFER), a member of the bourgeoisie who believes deeply in the sanctity of marriage. For Valmont to succeed with the virtuous Madame de Tourvel will be his Most prestigious seduction ever.
Madame Tourvel is staying, conveniently, at the country estate of Madame de RosemOnde (MILDRED NATWICK), the Vicomte’s aunt. Valmont has arranged an invitation for himself to stay with his aunt. Amused by Valmont’s plan., Merteuil promises to reward him. with .one-night of love should he succeed in his carnal quest.
Still determined to punish Bastide through Cecile, Merteuil turns to a handsome and shy young music teacher, Chevalier Danceny (KEANU. REEVES), arranging for Cecile to. take lessons. with him. Unwittingly, Danoeny falls for. Merteuil’s scheme and writes impassioned love letters to the young virgin, but the relationship,fails to become physical. Frustrated, Merteuil informs Cecile’s mother of the dangerous flirtation and suggests that Cecile be removed from harm’s way–to the safe environment of Madame de Rosemonde’s country estate. It .is a shrewd tactic that will place the young girl within striking distance of the rake Valmont.
Now the seducer is free to wage carnal battle on two fronts. When Valmont is spurned by the unassailable Tourvel, he turns his insatiable desire upon the inexperienced Cecile, who is easily manipulated by him. This achievement is quickly surpassed when Valmont finally manages to batter down the resistance of the more mature Tourvel. But along with Valmont’s triumph there comesan unexpected complication: he violates the strict code of the dedicated seducer that he and
Merteuil live .by, committing the ultimate sin of actually falling in love with Tourvel. This emotional weakness can only result in tragedy-for all…
Warner Bros. presents a Lorimar Film Entertainment Picture, an NFH Limited Production, starring Glenn Close, John Malkovich and Michelle Pfeiffer in “Dangerous Liaisons.”
The Warner Bros release also stars Swoosie Kurtz, Keanu Reeves, Mildred Natwick-end Uma Thurman. The film is directed by Stephen Frears and produced by Norma Heyman and Hank Moonjean, from a screenplay by Christopher Hampton, based on the play by Hampton, adapted from the novel “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” by Choderloy de Laclos. The film editor was Mick Audsley; director of photography was Philippe Rousselot; production designer was Stuart Craig; costume designer was James Acheson.
Music is by George Fenton.
About the Production…
Despite a scandalous reputation and frequent bannings, Choderlos de Laclos’ erotic and psychological masterpiece, Les Liaisons Dangereuses has fired the imagination of readers since its publication in 1782.
One reader who succumbed to the book’s spell was British playwright-Christopher Hampton. “I loved the book and used to re-read it often,” Hampton recalls. “It’s – one of the most profound analyses ever made of love and sex,–and the difference between them.”
Hampton long harbored an ambition to adapt Les Liaisons Dangereuses for ,the stage.. He got his chance when he was commissioned in 1984 by the Royal Shakespeare Company to write anything he chose. The RSC was a bit surprised when he delivered “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” since the Company had staged a dramatization of the novel in the 1960s.
The London production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses” won the 1986 Olivier Award, the British equivalent of Broadway’s Tony, and is-stiil running after 800 performances.
The RSC’s Broadway production was nominated for seven Tonys.
The play has since overcome French doubts about an Englishman’s adaptation of a French classic to dazzle audiences in Paris and has won acclaim on other stages around the world–in Japan, Italy, Mexico and Los Angeles, among others.
“The reason it’s been so successful,” the playwright says modestly, “is because the book’s story is so strong.
You don’t know what’s going to happen next. It also seems to relate very strongly to today. Recently, both in England and America, institutionalized selfishness has been encouraged, so the heartlessness of the characters’ behavior seems
to strike a chord. People recognize the greed–not for money, since the characters are unbelievably rich–but for power.”
Immediately on the heels of the play’s triumphant London premiere, Christopher Hampton received offers from a dozen film producers who recognized the play’s tremendous screen potential. He ultimately chose to work with Norma Heyman, who formed NFH Films and made her own debut as a producer with a Hampton screenplay, “Beyond the Limit,” starring Michael Caine, Richard Gere and Bob Hoskins.
“As soon as I saw the play I.knew I had to make this film,” Heyman says. “It had everything I love best and search for in a potential film; romance, humor, passion, extraordinary irony, and in the end, it’s a very moral tale.”
Joining forces with producer Hank Moonjean, a 34-year Hollywood veteran, Heyman and Hampton sought and obtained the services of the ideal director for the project: Stephen Frears. Frears is a veteran British television and film director who most recently won critical and audience plaudits for three successive movies about the tricky games lovers play: “My Beautiful Laundrette,” “Prick Up Your Ears” and “Sammy and Rosie Get Laid.” “Dangerous Liaisons” should cement Frears’ reputation as an undisputed master of the subject.
“‘Dangerous Liaisons’ has such a wonderful story,”
Frears says. “The setting may be just before the French Revolution, but it’s very modern in its treatment of romance.
People behaving badly is quite familiar.”
In addition to his growing renown as a taleted director of love stories, Frears is noted for working well with top writers. He has collaborated with Alan Bennett, Tom Stoppard, Peter Prince and Neville Smith, among others.
Frears and Christopher Hampton agreed that Hampton’s adaptation of “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” should not rely totally upon Hampton’s play, but should be drawn directly from the book.
“People tell stories in plays,” Frears explains.
“In film, you show it. Plays are always too long. Films are often too long, but it’s worse in the theatre.” Christopher Hampton agrees, “I really put the play away, started from the book again, and tried to re-think it,”
he sayst “The way you build a scene in the theatre is different, it takes more time to develop.”
The resulting screenplay for “Dangerous Liaisons” was forty minutes shorter than the play. “The story is more from the book,” says Frears. “The dialogue is from the play.”
With its rich language and complexity of emotions, “Dangerous Liaisons” presents a particular challenge to its actors. Frears decided it was essential to cast the film principally with actors trained in the theatre, who would be
comfortable with Christopher Hampton’s rich language. He also believed American actors would be an asset.
“To me, the access to the material is through the characters,” Frears explains. “The film is about people dealing with their feelings–or failing to deal with them and American actors play feelings wonderfully, especially
Glenn Close was a natural choice for the Tole of Merteuil, her first movie since her triumph in “Fatal Attraction,” which marked a radical shift for Close, away from playing sympathetic heroines on screen. Merteuil, who is described in Hampton’s screenplay-as “a genuinely wicked woman,” will be her second successive screen villainess.
“Just last year everyone was calling me Goody-Two- Shoes,” the actress sighs. But Close sees a dramatic difference between Merteuil and Alex, the character she played in “Fatal Attraction.”
“That lady lost all control,” Close says. “This one is in complete control of herself–and almost everyone else!
“Merteuil is a lady I’ve always wanted to play,” Close adds, “because she’s very modern–a highly intelligent woman born in the wrong century. She really had no outlets for her brilliance except for manipulation.”
Playing opposite Close as the ultimate seducer and libertine, John Malkovich sees Valmont as an essentially tragic figure snared by his own trap.
“Valmont is born with so many advantages,” Malkovich says. “He’s intelligent, witty, clever, rich and attractive, yet he devotes himself to destruction. All this wit and drive and passion and talent and energy devoted to decadence could only have one result: revolution.”
Like Close and Malkovich, Swoosie Kurtz, who plays Madame de Volanges, came to films from an established and highly successful career in theatre. Kurtz is the winner of two Tony Awards and an Obie. Stephen Frears was able to cast even the youngest members of the company with actors who had stage experience. Keanu Reeves, who plays Chevalier Danceny, may be best known for his performance as a troubled teenager in the film “River’s Edge,” but the twenty-three- year-old Toronto native has played Shakespeare on stage.
Eighteen-year-old Uma Thurman, who plays Cecile, also has New York theatre experience.
Michelle Pfeiffer, playing the virtuous Madame de Tourvel, is the exception to Frears’s preference for classically trained stage actors. Pfeiffer’s credits are an impressive assortment of roles in a dozen movies.
“But that’s all right,” Frears says cheerfully.
“Michelle’s character, Madame de Tourvel, is from a different class, more bourgeoisie than aristocracy. It was the bourgeoisie who introduced the idea of marriage as a romantic concept rather than a business proposition, and the French Revolution was really about the rise of the bourgeoisie in the 18th Century.”
In other words, Pfeiffer’s remarkable ease in front of the cameras, and her contemporary beauty, perfectly suit the role of Tourvel a woman whose special grace is her lack of artifice.
Mildred Natwick rounded out the cast as Valmont’s elderly aunt, Madame de Rosemonde. The 83-year-old Natwick is the veteran of dozens of stage, screen and television appearances, including a number of films directed by John
Ford and Alfred Hitchcock.
“Dangerous Liaisons” was shot on location in a series of eight magnificent chateaux in the Paris vicinity. Frears made a conscious decision to play down the opulent trappings of the period to better emphasize the story’s contemporary
psychology and to shift the focus towards the characters.
Still, a French count was consulted on the finer points of 18th-century etiquette, and the actors had to dress in restrictive period clothing, including corsets, panniers
(hoop skirts that required a wide double doorway for a smooth passage) and massive wigs.
“It’s no wonder the French aristocracy needed so many servants,” Glenn Close ‘remarks. “You need help to get into these dresses. You can’t do it alone.”
“Dangerous Liaisons” boasted an impressive array of talent behind the cameras to realize the lush look of the period. Director of photography Philippe Rousselot was nominated for an Oscar for “Hope and Glory.” Production designer Stuart Craig won an Oscar for his work on -”Gandhi,” and was nominated for another for “The Mission.” James Acheson, the costume designer, received the 1988 Academy Award for his work on “The Last Emperor.”. And composer George Fenton was nominated for his score for “Gandhi:”