ⓘ The Duellists

The Duellists

ⓘ The Duellists

The Duellists is a 1977 British historical drama film and the feature directorial debut of Ridley Scott. It won the Best Debut Film award at the 1977 Cannes Film Festival. The basis of the screenplay is the Joseph Conrad short story "The Duel" published in A Set of Six.


1. Plot

In Strasbourg in 1800, fervent Bonapartist and obsessive duellist Lieutenant Gabriel Feraud of the French 7th Hussars, nearly kills the nephew of the citys mayor in a sword duel. Under pressure from the mayor, Brigadier-General Treillard orders one of his staff officers, Lieutenant Armand dHubert of the 3rd Hussars, to put Feraud under house arrest. However, Feraud takes it as a personal insult when dHubert tells him he is under arrest at the house of Madame de Lionne, a prominent local lady. Matters are made worse when dHubert doesnt immediately reply when asked by Feraud if he would "let them spit on Napoleon". Upon reaching his quarters, Feraud challenges dHubert to a duel. The result is inconclusive; dHubert slashes Ferauds forearm but he is attacked by Ferauds mistress before he can finish him off. As a result of the fight, the General dismisses dHubert from his staff and returns him to active duty with his regiment.

The war interrupts the mens quarrel and they do not meet again until six months later in Augsburg in 1801. Feraud immediately challenges dHubert to another duel and seriously wounds him. While recovering, dHubert takes lessons from a fencing master and in the next duel held in a cellar with heavy sabres, the two men fight each other to a bloody standstill. Soon afterwards, dHubert is relieved to learn he has been promoted to captain. Military discipline forbids officers of different ranks from duelling.

The action moves to 1806 when dHubert is serving in Lubeck. He is shocked to hear that the 7th Hussars have arrived in the city and that Feraud is now also a captain. Aware that in two weeks time he is to be promoted to major, dHubert attempts to slip away but is spotted by Ferauds perpetual second. Feraud challenges him to another duel which is to be fought on horseback with sabres. DHubert slashes his opponents forehead; blinded by blood flowing into his eyes, Feraud can no longer fight. DHubert considers himself the victor and leaves the field ebullient. Soon afterwards, his regiment is posted to Spain.

Six years later the pair chance upon each other during the French Armys retreat from Moscow in 1812. But before their animosity can seize them, Russian Cossacks attack forcing dHubert and Feraud to fight together instead of against each other.

Two years later, after Napoleons exile to Elba, dHubert is a brigadier-general recovering from a leg wound at the home of his sister Leonie in Tours. She introduces him to Adele, the niece of her neighbour. The couple fall in love and are married. A Bonapartist agent attempts to recruit dHubert as rumours of Napoleons imminent return from exile abound. But dHubert refuses to command a brigade if the Emperor returns from Elba. When Feraud, who is now a Bonapartist brigadier-general, learns this he declares he knew dHubert was a traitor to the Emperor, which is why he challenged him to a duel in the first place.

After Napoleon is defeated at Waterloo, dHubert joins the army of Louis XVIII. Feraud is arrested and is expected to be executed for his part in the Hundred Days. DHubert approaches the Minister of Police Joseph Fouche and persuades him to release Feraud without revealing dHuberts part in his reprieve. Feraud is paroled to live in a certain province under police supervision.

After Feraud learns of dHuberts promotion in the new French Army, he sends two former officers to dHubert with a challenge for a pistol duel. Reluctantly dHubert agrees to the terms. The two men meet in a ruined chateau on a wooded hill. However, after Feraud rapidly discharges both his pistols, dHubert catches him at point blank range. But instead of shooting him, dHubert says that tradition dictates he now owns Ferauds life which means that in all future dealings with him, Feraud shall now conduct himself "as a dead man".

With that dHubert returns to his life and happy marriage. The film ends with a solitary Feraud gazing at the horizon in silent contemplation as he faces ending his days in provincial exile unable to pursue the obsession that has consumed him for so many years the scene references the watercolour Napoleon on Saint Helena by Franz Josef Sandmann.


2. Historical basis

The Conrad short story evidently has its genesis in the real duels that two French officers fought in the Napoleonic era. Their names were Dupont and Fournier-Sarloveze, whom Conrad disguised slightly, changing Dupont into dHubert and Fournier into Feraud.

In The Encyclopedia of the Sword, Nick Evangelista wrote:

As a young officer in Napoleons Army, Dupont was ordered to deliver a disagreeable message to a fellow officer, Fournier, a rabid duellist. Fournier, taking out his subsequent rage on the messenger, challenged Dupont to a duel. This sparked a succession of encounters, waged with sword and pistol, that spanned decades. The contest was eventually resolved when Dupont was able to overcome Fournier in a pistol duel, forcing him to promise never to bother him again.

They fought their first duel in 1794 from which Fournier demanded a rematch. This rematch resulted in at least another 30 duels over the next 19 years, in which the two officers fought mounted and on foot, with swords, sabres, and pistols.


3. Production

The main locations used for shooting the film were in and around Sarlat-la-Caneda in the Dordogne region of France. The scenes set during the retreat from Moscow were shot in the Cairngorms of Scotland, near Aviemore. The final duel scene was filmed at Chateau de Commarque.


4. Critical reception

The film holds a 92% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 24 reviews, with an average score of 7.2/10 and the critical consensus: "Rich, stylized visuals work with effective performances in Ridley Scotts take on Joseph Conrads Napoleonic story, resulting in an impressive feature film debut for the director."

The film has been compared to Stanley Kubricks Barry Lyndon. In both films, duels play an essential role. In his commentary for the DVD release of his film Scott comments that he was trying to emulate the lush cinematography of Kubricks film, which approached the naturalistic paintings of the era depicted.

Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote: "The movie, set during the Napoleonic Wars, uses its beauty much in the way that other movies use soundtrack music, to set mood, to complement scenes and even to contradict them. Sometimes its all too much, yet the camerawork, which is by Frank Tidy, provides the Baroque style by which the movie operates on our senses, making the eccentric drama at first compelling and ultimately breathtaking." Pauline Kael of The New Yorker wrote, "The Duellists is an epic yarn; we sit back and observe it, and its consistently entertaining - and eerily beautiful." Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film two-and-a-half stars out of four and wrote, "The story might have worked if there were an undercurrent of attractiveness to Keitels loutish character. But he is an unwavering boor from start to finish, and his prowess with weapons is in no way redeeming." Variety wrote that Ridley Scott "does have an eye for fine compositions, period recreation and arresting tableaus. But it is somewhat surface and too taken up with poses. it rarely illuminates the deeper human aspects of these two flailing men." Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times wrote that the sword fights were "the best Ive ever seen" and called the story "refreshingly different from standard film content." Michael Webb of The Washington Post wrote, "The film has the pictorial beauty and rich period sense of Barry Lyndon, but adds the narrative drive and passion that Kubricks film lacked." David Ansen of Newsweek wrote, "The best you can say about the film - the directing debut of Ridley Scott - is that it provides an unusually civilized experience in these days of movie barbarism. The worst that can be said is that Keitel and Carradine are so perversely cast as French hussars that, whenever they speak, the splendid illusion of nineteenth-century Europe is shattered."

The film is lauded for its historically authentic portrayal of Napoleonic uniforms and military conduct, as well as its generally accurate early-19th-century fencing techniques as recreated by fight choreographer William Hobbs. The military adviser was military historian Richard Holmes.


5. Home media

On 29 January 2013, Shout! Factory released the film on Blu-ray. The release coincided with the publication of an essay on the film in a collection of scholarly essays on Ridley Scott.

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  • Blowzabella, Ancient Beatbox, The Duellists and Firestarters of Leiden. He has released two solo albums, The Music of the Hurdy - Gurdy 1987 and Pandemonium
  • notably includes Stanley Kubrick s Barry Lyndon and Ridley Scott s The Duellists In the late 1960s early 1970s, she was love interest and later wife of
  • British Museum. The Discomfited Duellists Fitzwilliam Museum. Archived from the original on 2014 - 07 - 14. The Discomfited Duellists National Gallery
  • appeared in Gosford Park, Love Actually, Pride Prejudice, Irina Palm, The Duellists and A Woman of Substance. She was married to William Wright from 1967
  • collaborations with Ridley Scott and his brother Tony, working on films like The Duellists The Hunger, G.I. Jane, and Kingdom of Heaven. Cinematographer hugh johnson
  • Encounters of the Third Kind Vilmos Zsigmond The Duellists Frank Tidy Superman Geoffrey Unsworth Death on the Nile Anthony Powell The Duellists Tom
  • Entertaining Mr. Sloane 1970 The Canterbury Tales 1972 and The Duellists 1977 He appeared several times on the BBC Play of the Month, Hallmark Hall of
  • Her film appearances include The Passenger 1975 The Duellists 1977 Jubilee 1978 The Lady Vanishes 1979 and The Witches 1990 Runacre was
  • as few as a dozen duels, a derisory number compared to the great duellists of his day. One of the twelve was against his own cousin, Bagenal Harvey. Harvey