Why see Terry Gilliam's ‘Brazil’?

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We invite you to Time Out’s very special screening of Terry Gilliam’s Orwellian masterpiece ‘Brazil, introduced by the film’s star, Jonathan Pryce

Last month, we asked 150 members of the British film industry – actors, writers, directors, producers, critics and experts – to take part in our definitive poll of the 100 Best British Films. In the second of our ten-week season of celebratory screenings, we present the film which placed at a very respectable number 24 on the list: Terry Gilliam’s dizzying futuristic nightmare ‘Brazil’.

Originally titled ‘1984½’, in a double nod to George Orwell and Federico Fellini, ‘Brazil’ takes place ‘somewhere in the mid-Atlantic’, in a dystopian retro-future inspired equally by 1920s expressionism, ’40s noir and science fiction. Jonathan Pryce is Sam Lowry, a downtrodden, daydreaming drone trapped in an endlessly complex bureaucratic system, who finds his life falling apart when he takes up the case of Archibald Buttle, an ordinary man accidentally arrested in place of Harry Tuttle, a rebel heating engineer played with dashing old-school élan by Robert De Niro.

The plot is devilishly complex – taking in torture, terrorist bombings, radical plastic surgery, illegal plumbing, carol-singing secret policemen and loads of ducts – and the cast is nothing less than a who’s who of iconic British character actors, including Bob Hoskins, Michael Palin, Jim Broadbent, Ian Holm, Ian Richardson and Gorden Kaye, alongside token Yanks De Niro, Kim Greist and the legendary Katherine Helmond as Sam’s ageing beauty-queen mother.

But perhaps the chief reason to see the film is Gilliam’s direction: working with a bigger budget than he’d ever been given before, the director let his imagination run riot, creating a world which feels at once entrancingly escapist and grimly familiar. From the epic fantasy landscapes of Sam’s dreams to the claustrophobic cocoon of his apartment, from the soul-crushing industrial wasteland of the outer city to the pristine fascist dominance of ‘The Ministry’, ‘Brazil’ remains one of the most breathtakingly beautiful, painstakingly designed movies ever shot in these isles.

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On its release in 1985, Gilliam’s film was overshadowed by the industry furore which followed in its wake. Produced by Universal Pictures under the aegis of company chairman Sid Sheinberg, the film was viewed as a potential flop by the studio: it was long, bleak, bizarre and confusing. Sheinberg recut the film, excising much of the darker material and tacking on a happy, ‘love conquers all’ ending.But the Hollywood press, aware that the film had already been released to rave reviews across Europe, took up ‘Brazil’ as a cause célèbre, even giving it the Los Angeles Critics Association award for Best Film of the year. Universal caved, and ‘Brazil’ was released largely unscathed: albeit to a bemused American audience.

The film’s reputation has grown in the years since: it’s now regarded not just as Gilliam’s finest work, but as the best sci-fi movie ever made in the UK. And for us to have Jonathan Pryce on hand to talk about ‘Brazil’ is a real honour: like his signature movie, Pryce has gone from strength to strength over the past 25 years, with lauded performances alongside Al Pacino and Jack Lemmon in ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ and with Emma Thompson in ‘Carrington’, not to mention crowd-pleasing turns in blockbusters ranging from ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ to ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’. And yet, despite playing the US President in 2009’s ‘GI Joe’, Pryce remains one of the most defiantly British of Hollywood stars: a fact proven by his willingness to pitch up at the Haymarket Cineworld on a Tuesday night to talk about the role which launched this remarkable career.

We hope to see you in the audience for this incredibly exciting event: just remember to bring your 27B-6…

Buy tickets to our special screening here.



Author: Tom Huddleston



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