“Where do you draw the line? This is the way it happened – those nuns were used for political ends, toted round France as a side show for a year. Do you ignore the actual historical accuracy and the fact that the Church, the politicians and the aristocracy were corrupt? I get so angry with the opinion makers who class it with the sex films. If we ignore history because it was unpleasant we’re going to end up with nothing but nature films.” ~Oliver Reed on The Devils
Cardinal Richelieu and his power-hungry entourage seek to take control of pre-rennaisance France, but need to destroy Father Grandier - the priest who runs the fortified town that prevents them from exerting total control. So they seek to destroy him by setting him up as a warlock in control of a devil-possessed nunnery, the mother superior of which is sexually obsessed by him. A mad witch-hunter is brought in to gather evidence against the priest, ready for the big trial.
Hell holds no surprises for them.
Never had there been exorcisms like this.
This film was banned from Italy and its stars Redgrave and Reed were threatened with three years' jail time if they set foot in that country. Oliver Reed described this as his best performance ever.
Derek Jarman's sets (the later director served as production designer on this film) are modeled on the sets of Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927). Ken Russell wanted to avoid the clichéd look of period films and insisted on anachronistic, even futuristic, design.
While preparing for the climactic demolition of the city walls, a technician mistook a signal from 'Ken Russell' and detonated the explosives before the cameras were rolling. A large chunk of the set had to be rebuilt.
The film's combination of religious themes and imagery combined with explicit sexual content was a test for the British Board of Film Classification that at the time was under pressure from socially conservative lobbying groups. In order to get an 'X' certificate Russell made sacrificial cuts of some of the nudity. The film was kept from home video distribution and television screening until the 1990s. A two-and-a-half-minute sequence depicting crazed naked nuns sexually assaulting a statue of Christ was removed at the studio's insistence before the film was submitted to the BBFC censors, who removed a further 89 seconds. All of this material was presumed lost or destroyed until critic Mark Kermode found the complete "Rape of Christ" sequence and several other deleted scenes in 2002. Although some material may have been lost forever, the NFT was able to show The Devils in the fullest possible state in 2004. The film has never been released on DVD and although Warner Bros announced that the film would be released an uncut version in 2006, it now appears highly unlikely that the film will ever be released on DVD. The reasons for this are unclear. This uncut version premiered at the Brussels International Festival Of Fantastic Film (BIFFF) in March 2006.
Click here to watch some of Oliver Reed's best acting:
Grandier: Hold my hand. It's like touching the dead, isn't it?
Barre: Sin can be caught as easily as the plague.
Jeanne: They always spoke of your beauty, and now I see it with my own eyes and it is true.
Grandier: Look at this thing that I am and learn the meaning of love.
Jeanne: Oh, Christ, let me find a way to you. Take me in your sacred arms. Let the blood flow between us uniting us. (moans) Grandier. Grandier!
Grandier: Call me vain and proud, the greatest sinner ever to walk God's earth, but Satan's boy I could never be. I haven't the humility.
The Quotable Oliver Reed:
"You meet a better class of people in pubs."
"My only regret is that I didn't drink every pub dry and sleep with every woman on the planet."
"I'm not a villain, I've never hurt anyone. I'm just a tawdry character who explodes now and again."
"I'm not as thrilled with myself as I used to be."
"I like to give my inhibitions a bath now and then."
"I have made many serious statements-- I just can't remember any of them. I guess they mustn't have been very important..."
For Fans Only A documentary made about the film featuring Ken Russells, Vanessa Redgrave and others: