The Hour of the Pig (aka The Advocate) (1993)




Director:     Leslie Megahey.

Starring:     Colin Firth (Richard Courtois),  Ian Holm (Albertus),  Donald Pleasence (Pincheon),  Amina Annabi (Samira),  Nicol Williamson (Seigneur Jehan d'Auferre),  Michael Gough (Magistrate Boniface),  Harriet Walter (Jeannine Martin),  Jim Carter (Mathieu),  Lysette Anthony (Filette d'Auferre),  Sophie Dix (Maria),  Vincent Grass (Bailiff Labatier),  Elizabeth Spriggs (Madame Langlois),  Raoul Delfosse (Blind George),  Justin Chadwick (Gerard d'Auferre),  Jean-Pierre Stewart (Sheriff). 

a lawyer defends animals accused of being involved in witchcraft


Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.

France, 15th century, the dark ages.  The people were still gripped by ignorance and superstition mortally afraid of the power of Satan, daily expecting God's punishment  -- the plague that was sweeping Europe.  In these times the church was sometimes as corrupt as the state.  The local Lords, the Seigneurs, ruled with cruel self-interest and justice was represented by a somewhat confused legal profession.  Animals were subject to the same civil laws as human beings.  They could be prosecuted for crimes in a court of law.  All cases shown in this film are based on historical fact. 

Roger Landrier has been convicted of bestiality and both he and the donkey are going to be hung.  A messenger arrives.  Father Lucian of the village of Ezies brings a petition from the good people of his parish attesting to the good character of the person of the she-ass to the effect that the animal was violated without her consent.  The judge says that the she-ass is released without stain to her character. The man, however, is hanged.

1452.   Lawyer Richard Courtois leaves Paris for the peacefulness of the countryside.  Accompanying the advocate is the lawyer's clerk Mathieu.  They are going to settle in Ponthieu, France.  The virtual ruler of the town is the Seigneur Jehan d'Auferre, Lord of Abbeville, who lives in a huge castle.  The lawyer and his clerk stop at an inn for supper and lodging.  They speak of their competition, the country lawyer Pincheon, who has also been the state prosecutor for fifteen years. 

The next morning the guys from Paris meet Domini Albertus, who likes his women now and then.  The gypsies come to town.  The villagers stop and stare at them.  Richard's eyes meet the eyes of a pretty gypsy known as Samira and they both take a good look at each other.  The gypsies gone, the guys go over to the court.  Richard meets the lawyer Pincheon.  He advises Richard to read the local law.  Richard and Mathieu take a look at the defense cases.  The defense caseload is backed up because there has not been a defense lawyer in the village for about six months.  Richard expects rather light cases, but Mathieu finds cases such as murder, rape and witchery. 

Richard rides out into the countryside.  Albertus has been fooling around with a young woman and now has to run for it to escape being punished by the woman's fellow. 

In court Richard is defending a man named Valliere charged with the murder of his wife's lover.  He is able to get him off even though he is guilty. 

Richard and Mathieu see a woman carrying a dead Jewish boy.  Richard and Mathieu go to the prison to check on their female client in this case.   The woman is accused of using witchcraft to kill the boy.  Jailer La Batier explains that he pricks the woman twice a day.  He pulls the woman's top down to show a supposed third nipple, the infamous witch's teat. Richard observes that this mark was a birth mark before the jailer started sticking it every day with his damn needles.  He demands that the jailer let his client go.  The woman says:  "I suckled Lucifer."  Richard explains that he is her advocate, she doesn't have to act for him.  He tell Mathieu to write down that their client has signs of torture in the second and third degree.  The woman named Jeannine Martin has had her case turned over to the civil court so there won't be any capital punishment.  The charge against her is that with her witchery she harmed her neighbors.  She cursed a man who pulled down her fence and cause him to be impotent.  And she suborned rats to bite and infect the boy Jean Perrinot who died of a fatal miasma. 

Richard has another case involving witchcraft.  This is somewhat of a different case for the defendant is a pig accused of child murder.  Mahmoud and his sister Samira come to talk to Richard.  It's their pig and they want him to take the case.  Richard refuses the case.  He says he is not an advocate for pigs.  The brother and sister leave. 

Richard talks with Albertus who is very learned.  Albertus says that Father Ignatius proved there was not a single case of witchcraft in fifty years in Arras based on any real evidence.  But, of course, they burned him too.  Richard talks about the pig case.  He thinks the whole thing is ridiculous.  Albertus, however, says that in a world where nothing is reasonable,  in the end, nothing can be truly mad."  In a ridiculous case, you can use the same type of ridiculous logic to win the case. 

Richard goes to court on the case of Jeannie Martin.  He is able to get her off.  But then suddenly the judge says now he has to enact the verdict of the Holy Fathers.  Richard is taken completely by surprise.  He is both shocked and outraged.  And poor Jeannie is very fearful.  She was told by Richard that she was not going to be executed.  He tells the judge that he can't act for the church.  There is nowhere in France where this would be legal.  The judge says but it is legal here because they have their own law.  Richard keeps protesting, so the judge just tells him to keep quiet. 

The judge says the accused has confessed to her crime.  Richard objects and the judge asks the woman.  Hearing her response, the judge says:  You see, she confesses that she confessed.  The judge passes sentence.  Jeannie will be hanged by the neck and strangled until she is dead.  Richard is devastated.  He thought he had worked out with the court the equivalent of a "plea deal".  Pincheon comes over to Richard and says that he had told him to read the local law.  As Jeannie is being taken back to prison, she tells Richard that he can bring light to the darkness around him:  "Look to the boy!" 

Richard is riding in the country when he sees the sheriff and his men manhandling the gypsies.  The sheriff explains that they are disinfecting them.  They might be carrying the plague.  He tries to get them to stop, but the sheriff insists that he has the right to do this. 

Richard goes to see the great Lord.  They talk about the pig case.  The Seigneur is very frank with Richard saying that everyone in the village knows that he has been tumbling the black woman (the gypsy).  He wants Richard to pay her off to get her to withdraw her defense of the pig.  Richard says he already tried that.  She wouldn't take the money.   So the Seigneur tells Richard that he has one more ancient right. (Unbeknownst to Richard, he plans on being the judge in the case.) 

The workman on a structure find another skeleton of a child.  In court Richard is shocked to see the Seigneur step forward as the judge in the case.  Richard asks for an adjournment and the Seigneur reluctantly grants him seven days. 

A print salesman shows Richard his prints.  Richard is not interested.  But his bed mate Maria reads the name of one of the prints:  "The Murder of a Young Jewish Child by One of the Diabolical Flemish Brotherhoods in the Godless City of Den Haag."  The lawyer and his clerk bring up the fact that the Seigneur has a brotherhood.  And why would a Lord run a guild?  The Seigneur is a member of the infamous Cathars which was part of a radical brotherhood involved in anti-Semitic activity. 

Richard returns to the Lord's castle.  The Seigneur tells him that he wants his daughter to marry soon.  And he seems to be thinking that Richard would make a good match.  The daughter wants to have sex with Richard and she signals him to follow her.  Richard follows her but he soon runs into her mother.  She says that Richard sure has become accustomed to the place.  As Richard continues his pursuit of the daughter, he stumbles onto a meeting of the brotherhood.  About a dozen or so men whose identity is cloaked by robes and masks sit around in a circle discussing matters.  Richard decides to listen in.  He walks onto the balcony to get closer.  He listens but when he backs up a little he sits on the bagpipes giving away his presence.  The meeting immediately breaks up.  They search for the someone who had been listening.  They find and confront Richard. 

The Seigneur speaks in private with Richard.  He wants to know what Richard heard.  Not much says Richard.  Some things about finances.  Richard then asks the Seigneur if he is a Cathar.  He says his grandfather was the last of the Cathars and he had his legs burnt off by King Philip.  Now their brotherhood only fixes tithes and prices for the whole province.

Richard runs into the sheriff and his men harassing Samira.  He objects to this and the sheriff starts harassing Richard about the gypsy woman.  He keeps pushing him until Richard hits him.  The sheriff and his men are going to retaliate, but Albertus saves the day with his arrival on the scene. Later Richard asks Samira to stay with him tonight.  She does and they have sex. 

Richard learns the so-called logic of trying and executing a pig in court from Pincheon.   The law is based on the principle of order, hence the phrase law and order.  When a wrong is done as in the present case, the execution of the pig supports the law because the fear of anarchy is abated in the people.   (This mad logic begs the question:  Isn't the real criminal escaping punishment releasing him or her to commit more criminal acts?) 

Richard throws his client on the mercy of the court.  The church bells start ringing.  The Lord/judge says that the festival of the Advent has begun.  Judgment will be given after Advent.  Pincheon advises Richard to go back to the city where he belongs. 

The Lord throws a big banquet which Richard attends.  Samira comes in to dance for the group.  Seigneur Jehan assures Richard that Samira came willingly.  He says he pays very well.  Samira starts to dance on the table and the son of the Seigneur pours wine down her cleavage and starts laughing.  Samira grabs a knife and puts it to his throat.  To save her from the Lord Richard takes Samira out of the room.  Richard is pretty upset and gets drunk.  He tells Mathieu to go to a brothel.  Mathieu tells his master that they are already at the brothel.  The brothel is the Abbeville Inn.  Maria is a prostitute and the charge for her services were and are added to their weekly bill as a lodging tax. 

Richard goes to bed.  He has some wild dreams.  He awakens.  Then he hears a boy calling out for help.  A horseman wearing a mask comes toward the boy, who continues to cry out for help.  Richard races to find the screaming boy.  The horseman circles  around the boy knocking him down.  He picks up the boy and puts him on the horse, but Richard arrives and he drops the boy.  Richard helps the boy to safety.  But as they walk the horseman shows up again and chases both of them.  Then the man who Richard thinks is a spy for the Seigneur comes forward and throws a lighted torch onto the hay in between the horseman and his prey.  The horseman races away.  Richard asks the man who he is and he says he is the one who has no need for fear.  And, no, he doesn't work for the Seigneur. 

Richard goes to Albertus for advice.  Albertus tells him to remember what Jeannine Martin told him:  "Look to the boy."  The only trouble is that Richard picked out the wrong boy.  He thought it was the boy who was killed and buried.  He has to look for a different boy.  And he thinks he's found this boy. 

Richard comes to see the Seigneur.   He tells him that it was his son who killed the child.  The Seigneur says that's very possible.  The boy has always been a problem for him.  He would do such things as nail three dogs to a tree.  But Richard can't get at the boy because he has now left for England.  The Seigneur now tells Richard that he will now agree to let the gypsies leave in peace. 

To prepare for the judgment at trial Richard tells Mathieu to find Valliere for him.    When Richard goes into court to hear the judge's verdict, he calls forward Valliere with another pig.  The two pigs look identical in their markings.  Richard says Valliere will attest to the fact that his pig has been very bad and done unnatural things.  When the boy died the pig was not in his pen.  And when he came back the pig  had blood all over his mouth.  It is Valliere's pig who is the evil one, not the pig on trial.  Pincheon says that in this case the law demands a retrial. 

Richard says he will try to get the evil pig to confess.  He tells the pig to speak up if he has done the terrible things of which he is accused.  Valliere sticks his pig twice with a knife tip and the pig squeals twice indicating yes.  The people in the court just laugh.  Not wanting another trial, the Seigneur judge says that the first pig is granted his freedom but the second one will be hanged until he is dead.  Some of the make-up on the second pig rubs onto Valliere's pants and he hides the spot from view.

Richard asks Samira to come with him to Paris.  She says that one night they will burn his house down with her inside.  It's impossible.  Richard tells her that he loves her.  Samira tells him that she could love him, but she would never be able to adjust to his culture.  But, she adds, a part of her goes with Richard. 

Richard finds out the identity of the suspected spy.  His name is Fournier and he does not work for the Seigneur, but for the Inquisition.  Mathieu decides to stay behind in the country.  As Richard prepares to leave in a coach, a knight in armor on a horse comes riding into the village.   The villagers are very curious about the man.  But when the knight removes his armor and clothes it is plain to see that he is infected with the plague. 

Riding back to Paris in the coach Richard sees that the young woman traveling along with him is very pretty.  He quickly starts introducing himself and telling her that he is a lawyer. 

The Black Death (bubonic plague) finally reached Ponthieu, carried there by an unknown traveler.  According to legend, he was a wandering knight-at-arms. 

Mathieu married Marie, left the law, and became a landlord of a local inn in Joinville. 

The film is based on the life of Bartholomew Chassenee who defended many animals in historically documented trials.  He became the greatest criminal lawyer of his century. 


Good movie.  It helps show the ridiculous heights of idiocy to which human beings can take their belief systems.  Superstition and supernaturalist thought dominated the minds of millions of people and still do.  These beliefs then were used to commit such heinous acts as kill people accused of such things as witchcraft.  Some idiots started "reasoning" that if the devil can get into a human being, how much easier to get into a "poor, dumb" animal.  So the idiots started accusing animals of witchcraft.  The whole idea of witchcraft was ridiculous, but humans could be even more ridiculous.  Yes, they went farther and declared that other animals than human beings could be inhabited by the devil or evil spirits or both.  The belief that animals could practice witchcraft just reinforces the skepticism about the ability of millions of human beings to be able to think.  They are all too willing to believe in the ridiculous, especially if the ridiculous system helps them personally.  In other words, I like the film because it helps show just how ridiculous human beings can be in their thinking. 

There was a lot of nudity in the film, mostly of pretty women, but of some men too.  That might repel some people and attract others.  Colin Firth as the lawyer Richard Courtois and Ian Holm as Albertus were both very good in their roles. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

666 – cursing and burning of storks by Saint Agricola in Avignon, France. Reliability questionable.

728 – expulsion of venomous reptiles from Reichenau Island, Germany by Saint Perminius.

824 – earliest animal prosecution for which reliable documentation exists. In an ecclesiastical proceeding, a group of moles was excommunicated in the Valley of Aosta, Italy.

1480  -- birth of Basrtholomew Chassenee, first "animal rights attorney" on record.

1519 - the commune of Stelvio, Italy prosecuted a group of moles who damaged their crops.

One of the most renowned of animal public defenders was Bartholomew Chassenee.  Later he was the first president of the Parlement de Provence (a position corresponding to Chief Justice). Moreover, he made a significant contribution to the evolution of sixteenth-century French legal thought.

1522 – Chassenee defended the rats of Autun accused of destroying the province’s barley crop. When the rats failed to appear in court, ignoring a court summons, Chassenee argued that the rats lived in different locations and a single summons would not be enough to do the job. Other summonses were issued and read, but the rats still didn’t show up. Chassenee argued that the rats couldn’t make the trip because of their fear of the cats.

1531 – Chassenee wrote about the legal analysis applied in animal trials. Sometimes animals found guilty would be excommunicated by the Catholic Church.

1540  --  death of Chassenee.  In his last case he defended a sect called the Waldenses and used the same reasoning as in the infamous rat case.  He died before the case was over, otherwise he might have saved the sect. 

1713 – in a Franciscan monastery in Piedade no Maranhao, Brazil), termites were summoned to appear before an ecclesiastical tribunal.





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