The Devils (1971)



Director:     Ken Russell

Starring:     Vanessa Redgrave (Sister Jeanne),  Oliver Reed (Urbain Grandier),  Dudley Sutton (Baron De Laubardemont),  Max Adrian (Ibert),  Gemma Jones (Madeleine),  Murray Melvin (Mignon),  Michael Gothard (Father Barre),  Georgina Hale (Philippe),  Brian Murphy (Adam),  Christopher Logue (Cardinal Richelieu),  Graham Armitage (Louis XIII),  John Woodvine (Trincant),  Andrew Faulds (Rangier),  Kenneth Colley (Legrand),  Judith Paris (Sister Judith),  Catherine Willmer (Sister Catherine),  Iza Teller (Sister Iza).

Country:   British film

Witchcraft mixes with politics in a surrealistic 17th-century France.


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.  Warning:  used the uncut version.  Lots of sacrilegious scenes are described. 

"The film is based upon historical fact.  The principal characters lived and the major events depicted in the film actually took place."

His Majesty comes out with just a thong bikini on playing the part of Venus on the Half-Shell by Sandro Botticelli, painted around 1482. Cardinal Richelieu is there to watch the mostly naked French King Louis XIII dance accompanied by six other dancers.  There are many cross-dressers in the audience and they heartily encourage the King.   The Cardinal says that they will build a new France where the church and state are one.  And may the Protestant be driven from the land! 

A great many Protestants are being forced to pull a wagon filled with goods.  The leader of the group shouts:  "Pull you Protestant pigs!" 

Father Urbain Grandier of Loudon, France speaks to his people.  He says that the religious wars are finally over.  They have survived thanks to a man named George D'samar.  And now the heroic man has been killed by the plague. 

In a convent, Mother Superior Jeanne scolds her nuns for looking out the window to catch a glimpse of the handsome Grandier.  After the nuns leave the room, Jeanne unlocks a door, lays prone on the ground and looks out a barred window to catch a glimpse of the famous man.  When she sees him she has a vision of him as Jesus walking on the water.  When he is on land ,she bows before  him, but the wind blows her clothes around and her hump-back is exposed.  She screams.  This awakens her.  She prays to Jesus to take away her hump. 

Grandier lays naked on the floor of his room.  A young woman naked lays on top of him.  She reads from a Latin text and then translates it into French.  In fact, her father sent her to the good father to teach her Latin and Grandier does not want to disappoint him.  The young lady tells him that she is pregnant and that she's frightened.  She wants Grandier to help her, but he only tells her to go to her father and tell him the truth.  He will surely find her a suitable man to marry. 

Out on the street men are picking up the bodies of the dead from the plague and putting them into a flat-bed wagon.  A man shouts:  "Bring out your dead!  Bring out your dead!"  A young woman named Madeleine sees Father Grandier on the street and she asks him for help with her mother.  The surgeon and the chemist have the woman naked and tied hand and feet on a table.  They are using leeches on her and are stinging her with hornets.  When Grandier sees them he throws off the leeches in their glass containers stucked to the woman's body.  He rails against the two men and their methods of "healing" and throws them out of the home.  The poor woman screams and dies. 

The father of the pregnant woman, who is also the magistrate, comes looking for Grandier.  He shouts for him to come out on the street and refers to him as a coward and a despoiler of his child.  Grandier does come down to the street but dismisses the magistrate's concerns.  The chemist and the doctor tell the magistrate that Grandier should be prosecuted. 

Father Mignon, a young, very thin and pale priest, tells Grandier that his cousin has told him that his daughter is pregnant.  He asks Grandier why can't he just stick with his whores and leave good women alone.  Grandier and Mignon throw holy water on the bodies in a mass grave of those who have died from the plague.

Madeleine goes to Mother Superior Jeanne to ask her if she can become a nun. Jeanne is very cynical.  She says most of the women here are either noble women whose husbands ran out of money or simply ugly women.  But Madeleine persists and Jeanne gives her a book to read.  Later Jeanne will quiz her on what she has read.  Madeleine goes to speak with Grenier.  Grenier is talking with the pregnant woman.  She says that she knows Father loved her.  Grenier just tells her to go.  Madeleine confesses that she suffers from pride, anger and unclean thoughts.  She wishes to be touched sexually. She then says that she loves Grenier.  Grenier tells her not to go to a convent.  Go to his house and he will see her there. 

Mother Superior has another vision.  This time Grenier is Jesus on the cross.  He comes down off the cross and kisses her.  She licks his side wound.  Jeanne holds her rosary with its crucifix so tightly that her right hand palm and fingers start to bleed.

Grenier at home with Madeleine tells her that there is no law of God compelling him to be celibate.  He believes it is not good for man to be alone. 

Baron De Laubardemont is putting his men to work on the walls.  Grenier comes out and demands to know what they are doing?  They are tearing down the wall sof the fortified town of Loudon.  Grenier strenuously objects to this and tells him to stop.  The Baron will not stop.  So Grenier asks to see his permit.  Since he does not have a permit, Grenier insists that he stop the work.  The Baron dismisses him, but Grenier goes and gets a big group of military men with crossbows.  Now the Baron agrees to stop work.  He will get the permit and come back. 

The reason why the Baron wants the walls brought down is that he works for the very powerful Cardinal Richelieu, virtual prime minister of France, and the Cardinal wants to break the power bases of the Huguenots (Protestants in largely Catholic France).  Loudon has a large population of Huguenots, so the Cardinals wants the wallsof the fortress taken down.  This will make it easier for the Cardinal to rule over the town and the Protestants in it.  Grenier knows what the Baron and the Cardinal are up to.  They don't want towns like his to be self-governing. 

Grenier appeals over the head of the Cardinal to the King.  The King had promised the former mayor of Loudon that his village would not be subject to having its walls torn down.  But the Cardinal still works on the King.  While he discusses the matter, the King shoots a Protestant after he is forced to run through a gauntlet dressed like a black bird.  The king shoots him in the back with a pistol.  The black bird falls into the water. 

The nunnery in Loudon has now lost its father-confessor.  So Jeanne works to get Grenier to be the replacement.  She masturbates while she thinks of Grenier in the nunnery. 

Grenier with Madeleine conduct a private marriage ceremony to marry them.   In hiding the local butcher and another man see the ceremony take place.  Later Grenier flagellates himself with a small whip.  Outside his room Sister Agnes masturbates to the flagellation. 

Richelieu speaks with the Baron.  He says that they need Loudon because they want to take control of southwest France.  The Cardinal says that ". . . the priest must be humbled and his pride crushed."

In the nunnery Sister Agnes orchestrates a parody of the marriage making a mockery of Grenier and Madeleine.  Jeanne hears about the marriage and is crushed.  When Madeleine sees Mother Superior again, Jeanne bites the young woman's wrist and pulls her hair.  And she calls her a whore and a fornicator. 

A father approaches the room where Jeanne is.  Jeanne expects it to be Grenier and is oh, so happy.  But it turns out to be Father Mignon.  Jeanne is very disappointed.  Mignon is to be the new father-confessor. 

Jeanne is so upset with Grenier that she tells someone that at night an incubus comes to her, behaving is a sexual way.  And it comes in the form of Grenier.  Is she aware of how serious this charge is?  Yes, she says.

Grenier, because of his sexual shenanigans, has created quite a few enemies.  The doctor and the chemist and the father of the pregnant daughter go to see the Baron to tell him about the terrible behaviors of Grenier.  They tell the Baron about the secret marriage ceremony and getting the magistrate's daughter pregnant.  And some of the nuns may be in danger of being possessed by the devil and Grenier is involved in this.  The Devil!  Now that may be a way to get Grenier!  So the Baron will call in a professional witch-hunter:  Father Barre. 

Father Barre arrives.  He begins the questioning of the Mother Superior.  At the same time he is planning a public exorcism of the nun.  Barre asks her to tell him about the visitations at night.  Jeanne testifies that he comes into her room with six creatures.  The worst parts of her testimony she whispers to Barre.  In the audience, a man shouts that the woman is mad.  Barre asks the doctor and the chemist to examine Jeanne for evidence of fornication.  They bring out some horrendous looking medical tools that scares Jeanne.  Now she tries to back out, but it's too late.  They painfully examine her and tell the fathers that she's had sex.  Jeanne is heavily bleeding as a result of the examination. 

So now they grab Jeanne and force her on her back onto a table.  Jeanne yells for mercy and says she takes back what she said, but to no avail.  They take a huge container of liquid and squirt the mixture into her.  One man in the audience says that it's the priests that are depraved.  It's they who are guilty of sacrilege.  They keep torturing Jeanne until she gives the name of the person who visits her at night.  It is Grenier. The nuns try to come to the rescue of Jeanne and start struggling with the questioners. 

Madeleine and Grenier are in bed together.  He tells her that he has never even seen the Mother Superior.  Madeleine urges him to speak with her. 

The Baron brings all the nuns into the woods.  They are kept in a bunch by a rope tightly tied around the entire group.  He says they will be executed for rebellion and treason.  The cross-bowmen are to be the executioners.  Father Barre intervenes speaking for leniency.  He says:  "Sin can be caught as simply as the plague."  Father Barre releases the nuns and they crowd around touching and thanking him for their salvation. 

The nuns are taken to a church.  The men will drive out the spirit of Grenier from their bodies.  This soon turns into a wild, madcap orgy of nudity and masturbation.  There are several sacrilegious scenes seen from a traditional religious point of view.  The statue of Jesus is taken down and the naked nuns masturbate to it using the feet and and mouth and nose of Jesus. 

Meanwhile, Grenier is feeling good.  He tells Madeleine that the king is sympathetic to their situation and says he will leave the fortress walls intact. He adds that Richelieu rules over the King, and, therefore, they will need help and courage. 

A relative of the King arrives at the orgy.  The women seem sexually possessed by the devil.  The relative says that he has something that will put a stop to the orgy.  He brings out a small gold box and says that in it is a relic:  a pile of the blood of Jesus Christ.  He gives it to Father Barre and soon the women calm down.  Jeanne calms down and says:  "I've been freed!"  When the room is silent the relative opens the box and turns it upside down.  There was never anything in the gold box.  Farther Barre says:  "What sort of a trick have you played on us?"  The relative asks:  "What sort of trick are you playing on us?"  The relative leaves. 

The orgy starts up again.  Father Barre tries to calm everyone, but a naked nun takes a large cross and uses it to hit Father Barre in the back and knock him down and out. 

Father Greiner is very hopeful and optimistic about the future of his town as he rides back to town.  This all changes when he arrives at the church.  He yells at the orgy participants that:  "You have turned the house of the Lord into a circus!"  He says to Father Barre and the Baron that they have seduced the people in order to control them.  They answer back that Greiner is in cahoots with the devil.  Grenier denies this saying:  "Satan's boy I could never be.  I haven't the humility."  Grenier tells Jeanne that she faces eternal damnation for her false testimony. 

The doctor and the chemist prick Father Grenier's tongue.  Since they say no blood came out, they conclude it is a sure sign of the devil.  Meanwhile, the Baron has Jeanne sign a written statement about Father Greiner.  He tells her that if she retracts what she says, she will be put to death. 

Jeanne tries to hang herself, but someone notices her and the nuns put a stop to it.  She retracts her statement, but the Baron says that it's only the devil speaking through Jeanne.  They take Jeanne to a room.  Father Barre has sex with her. 

The Baron tells Grenier that he will be tortured.  Grenier says he will admit to everything. 

They hold a mockery of a trial.  Some of the evidence against him is a pamphlet against Cardinal Richelieu.  And then they introduce a written statement from his "wife" Madeleine.  Grenier is also charged with having intercourse under the roof of the church.  Grenier shouts:  "Lies!" 

Grenier has his hair cut off and the rest shaved off.  He appears for sentencing completely bald and the audience laughs.  He is found guilty of commerce with the devil.   He is condemned to be burned at the stake.  Grenier is condemned verbally by some of the fathers.  He shouts to tell them to stop all this foolishness.  Grenier says that they all know the true reason for why he is before them today.  Father Barre goes out of control in denouncing Grenier. 

They want Grenier to confess to his crimes.  He refuses.  He is tortured by breaking his legs in multiple places with a hammer.  But he still won't confess.  He will have to be taken to the stake having not confessed.  Grenier went unconscious during the torture.  They put him on a mat and have donkeys pull the mat and Grenier to near the stake.  Because he can't walk, Grenier has to crawl the rest of the way to the stake.  Father Barre continues to act like a crazy man, but since Grenier never confessed, Father Mignon wonders about his true guilt.  Father Mignon kisses Grenier on the side of his face and the public calls out "Judas!  Judas!" 

As the fire starts to consume Father Grenier, explosives planted to knock down the walls suddenly go off.  The audience has to run to safety. 

The Baron goes to speak with Jeanne.  He tells her that there is no need for anymore witchcraft.  Father Mignon is demented saying that because Grenier never confessed, they killed an innocent man.   The Baron finds Jeanne trying to purge herself with the use of a long syringe filled with a liquid.  She says she is trying to get the devils out of her.  The Baron laughs a bit and asks:  "What devils?"  He adds that Jeanne is now just being hysterical.  With Grenier gone she is free.  Jeanne asks him "What should I do?"  The Baron says she can return to oblivion.   He starts to leave, but turns around and throws a "souvenir" to her.  She gasps when she discovers it is a blackened part of a bone from the burned body of  Grenier. 

Madeleine walks over the pile of  stones where once the wall was and walks away from the town. 


Good movie.  When I first saw it many years ago I didn't like it because of the touch of sadism in the movie.  It upset me.  But since then, I have gotten tougher I guess and now I could just enjoy the film.  I love the movie because it is such a condemnation of extremism.  We have to listen to all this sanctimonious claptrap from the political and religious leaders, while they are really just motivated by politics and wealth.  They want to weaken the French Protestants, so they bring a charge of working with the devil against the leader of a town that is largely Protestant in make-up. 

Extremism and its rationales need to be denounced forcefully.  Men pretending to be pious, do some of the most awful of things.  They use high sounding words to excuse what are often inhuman actions.  So the hell with these type of people.  Sanctimonious bastards. 

Father Grenier definitely is a sex-aholic, but he is more moral than his opponents, who conjure up the devil and hints of witchcraft to destroy the man protecting the French Huguenots. 

The sexual scenes are not that bad, but it did remind me a little of the movie Caligula with lots of nudity.   The more disturbing thing to most people are the sacrilegious scenes.  But this is why I like the film.  It smacks the sanctimonious back in their place.  Usually when people are really, awfully sanctimonious, they are doing something bad and are trying to cover it up.  They claim they are so morally superior to others as part of the apologia for their wrong-doing.  Someone needs to have the courage to tell them that they are not really moral at all and Ken Russell has done this. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


King Louis XIII. 


1634  --  the priest was burned to death. 



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