THE LAST DUEL
20th Century Studios
I suppose I should give you information like the running time, the cast and director. Well that’s not my style, you can get that stuff from a range of web, posters, and blogs. For the record, what you get is a top drawer director with a Hollywood “A” list of actors, let’s leave it at that.
The story, a documented truth according to the film, sets up in a medieval France weakened by power struggles, wracked with self-interest, coated in a veneer of chivalric codes, the usual nonsense of honour, respect, one for all, and all for the King. Herein lies an exposé of royal power, patronage, and financial abuse. Early in the film, we establish the protagonist’s initial respect and friendship, forged in war, but broken, first in marriage, then in personal betrayal, and finally in passion.
The story is based around the right of a knight, honoured by the King, to challenge a squire, to trial by combat, a duel to the death, as opposed to trial in the King’s court. In France, as in England, this has fallen into disuse and thought, incorrectly, banned. As the film unfolds, it’s clear why The Dual is chosen, with the corruption of chivalry and temporal judgement, a return to more ancient codes is the sole option for justice, and claimed as the final divine judgement of God.
The film is the perfect counterpoint to the other sword and honour film around, ‘The Green Knight’. No mythology, no duty, no code of honour, or struggle against self deceit or self doubt. This is a brutal, visceral, hatred, raw corruption, power, revenge, exploitation, never give a sucker an even break in the world. It’s debauchery, raw naked power. It’s women as chattels, where clever women are to be feared and intimidated. The only honour, male reputation, and in the Court of the King, pecking order. It’s old enmities in new bottles, it’s lust in a patriarchal world, it’s about women who are bright and clever, being abandoned by conformity, it looks as if it’s honour, but it’s really male pride and property. Male honour and reputation are all it seems that matters, beneath the surface there are other stories to be told.
The story is essentially the oldest of dramas told through rumours and who knows how reliable recollection. Is it a new take on an old tale with a female central protagonist if she is mostly just the prize in the frozen mud and blood and gore?
There are many questions for me, unanswered and unresolved by the film. Perhaps the most ambiguous and tantalising questions are the tears during the Dual as it grinds in the snow covered mud of the arena, the slow trickle of the wife’s tears.
It’s important to note in the medieval world it was the husband who brought the allegation to court, and the wife as a witness, would be burned at the stake if the case were lost, so here there was male honour, family reputation and literally a life, his wife’s that’s at stake. Or not at the stake.
For an “A” list film selling the sword play, it is unusually challenging. I wonder if the film had been shot with subtitles for Norman medieval French, by an unknown cast and crew, whether our perception would be different? I suspect for some their cultural agglutination to European films may blind them to what may be seen in future years, to be a minor masterpiece.
Main Image: screen grab of Jodie Comer
THE LAST DUEL
in cinemas now !!!