After being raped by the friend and squire of her husband, a woman seeks justice which leads to the last judicial duel fought in medieval France. Digital editor Dan Jensen takes a look at this true story that serves as a reflection on our society today.
*CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses rape and sexual abuse
THE LAST DUEL is a film with a lot of Hollywood clout behind it. Directed by Ridley Scott and written by Nicole Holofcener, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, it features a stellar cast including Jodie Comer, Adam Driver along with Damon and Affleck. The story is based on historical events and adapted from a novel written by Eric Jager.
But while many modern-day medieval films suffer from a polished Hollywood feel, The Last Duel excels in not only the film’s look but also its powerful message. This is a movie that will leave you thinking about it long after it's over. Despite the 14th Century setting, the film succeeds in reminding us that we still have a long way to go in eradicating rape culture.
Matt Damon stars as French knight Jean de Carrouges, a man consumed by vanity who marries Marguerite de Thibouville (Comer) in an effort to restore his finances and produce an heir. After returning from battle, Carrouges is told by his wife that she was raped in his absence by Jacques le Gris (Driver), a squire who had been friends with Carrouges before a rivalry erupted, caused by an allegiance between le Gris and Count Pierre d'Alençon (Affleck).
Initially, the film is a little difficult to get invested in as it feels incredibly choppy and disjointed. It doesn’t seem to go very deeply into the characters and only spends brief periods on any one scene, delivering the bare minimum of information. For that reason, The Last Duel could feel a little off-putting at first. But once you become accustomed to the structure of the story – divided into three chapters, each giving a primary character’s version of events – it becomes clear why the narrative is told this way. It’s particularly clever and works well, each chapter adding a little more to the story or altering things slightly from the perspective of each character.
On a technical level, The Last Duel is faultless. Ridley Scott is one of the most acclaimed directors in modern cinema and this film proves why. Every frame is filled with so much attention to detail that even extras appearing distantly in the background feel like they have developed backstories. The cinematography is outstanding and the production design makes the film feel completely authentic. This is a film that will most likely be hit with a lot of Oscar nominations next year.
The acting from every performer is completely engrossing, with the two standouts being Ben Affleck and Jodie Comer. Affleck’s Count Pierre steals every scene he’s in, his character feeling like a medieval punk rock star. At his core, he’s a despicable character, but entertaining nonetheless. Matt Damon delivers a solid performance in his role, although his accent can be quite distracting. It's a blend of American and British on par with Kevin Costner's terrible accent in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. But given that his character is French, it's a little more forgivable.
But the real star of the show is Jodie Comer as Marguerite. Comer is always such a charming actor and lights up the screen, her charisma essential here for adding sympathy to what her character endures through the story. After reporting her rape to her husband, he takes it as a personal affront to his own ego that it happened. During her court trial, the matter of her pregnancy is raised and whether it was caused by the rape. But it’s determined that because she didn’t enjoy the experience or achieve orgasm, science proves that pregnancy isn’t possible as a result.
There are scenes in the film where le Gris is told by Count Pierre to deny everything as he has the power to make all charges disappear. Le Gris himself is under the impression that the crime wasn’t really rape as he thought he loved Marguerite and believed her to harbour feelings for him as well. Essentially, her pleas for him to stop were just playful teasing because she actually wanted him. Sure, the story is set in the 14th Century, but it all sounds far too similar to events happening today in the film industry and in politics.
The Last Duel is sometimes confronting, not because of the bloody battle scenes (which are quite violent at times) but because it serves as a reminder that as long as misogyny is left unchecked, society has little hope of making progress.
The Last Duel is now showing in cinemas across the country.
If you would like to speak to someone about sexual violence, please call the 1800 Respect hotline on 1800 737 732 or chat online.
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