Stanley Kubrick's stately, sumptuous drama returns to the big screen where it belongs
‘I demand satisfaction!’ These words echo throughout Stanley Kubrick’s sedate, sumptuous eighteenth-century satire, as men in outrageous frocks challenge one another to pistols at dawn over matters of love and honour. But any audience member who goes seeking the same is liable to leave disappointed: for all its dry wit and visual splendour, this 1975 adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel might be the great director’s least satisfying, most disconcerting film – and that’s what makes it extraordinary.
Redmond Barry (Ryan O’Neal) is an Irish rogue who kills his rival in a duel, joins the British Army and heads to Prussia to fight in the Seven Years’ War. He’s a thug, a gambler, a traitor, a womaniser, a soldier and a loving dad – but O’Neal stays blank-faced, and in true Kubrick fashion we never get a real grip on his character. But that’s surely the point: no man is ever just one thing, and Barry (later Lyndon, when he marries a rich widow) is whoever he needs to be in the circumstances.
‘Barry Lyndon’ is best known for its photography – Kubrick borrowed a low-light camera from Nasa so he could shoot in candlelight – and it is uniquely, heart-stoppingly gorgeous. But there’s much more to it: this is a story of identity, and the lack of it. And it’s fascinating.
Cast and crew