Title: Barry Lyndon
Country: UK, USA, Ireland
Language: English, German, French
Genre: Adventure, Drama, History
Director/Writer: Stanley Kubrick
based on the novel of William Makepeace Thackeray
Music : Leonard Rosenman
Cinematography: John Alcott
Kubrick’s 3-hours epic about ups-and-downs of an Irish young man Redmond Barry (O’Neal) in the eighteenth century, narrated through an even-tempered and quite pleasing voiceover (Hordern), Barry is a farm boy raised by his mother (Kean) after lost his father in a duel, his puppy love with cousin Nora Brady (Hamilton) is curbed when Nora decides to marry Captain John Quin (Rossiter), who is able to pay for family debuts; an ensuing duel with John forces him to run away, but soon he is mugged penniless and joins the British Army and fights in the Seven Year’s War (1756-1763), shellshocked in the savagery of war, he takes French leave and takes on a a new identity, after a lovey-dovey time with a German wife Lischen (Körner), his disguised is exposed by Captain Potzdorf (Krüger), and is forced to join the Prussian Army.
Then, things seem to be rosy after Barry shows his bravery and gains the trust of Potzdorf. After the war, he is sent to spy on a gambler Chevalier de Balibari (Magee) who also shares the Irish lineage, for whom he double-crosses Potzdorf and becomes his collaborator in the gamble games, eventually Chevalier brings him back to Britain where he woos the affluent Lady Lyndon (Berenson), and divided by an intermission, now starts the second half of his story – where many tragedies is awaiting for him.
A thematic through-line is Barry’s single-minded pursuit to be a nobleman, in the first half, his chivalry wins him admiration in the fist combat among soldiers, but in the real war there is no place for nobility, the gallant facade of infantry being used as canon fodder is ludicrous to comprehend, and a tease to the royal formality. So, as an upstart who marries a rich woman whom he barely loves, Barry is not that clever, since he is never cognisant of the simple fact that the snobbish upper class doesn’t welcome parvenus, a significant ally should be his wife, if he cares to manifest his devotion and affections. But now his name is Mr. Barry Lyndon, all he needs is a title to secure the wealth for him and their young son Bryan (Morley), yet his philandering predisposition drives Lady Lyndon away and a critical chasm under the roof is between him and Lord Bullingdon (played by Savage and Vitali in different ages), Lady Lyndon’s son from a previous marriage, who will bring about his undoing in the future where Barry becomes a miserable failure who eventually falls from the rank of a gentleman.
One of the highly acclaimed aspects of this film is the lavish set production and inspiringly beguiling cinematography, the candle-lit scenes in the second half in particular, various tableaux vivants in stunning period costumes, imbues a transcendent beauty which intoxicates Barry and viewers alike, although underneath the finery, lies the stone-hearted defence system of a dying species. Duel is a key element in the film, from the opening one which dispatches Barry’s father, to the one with John which kickstarts Barry’s wandering adventures until the final one between him and Lord Bullingdon, which engagingly foregrounds Barry’s flawed benevolence in sharp contrast with Bullingdon’s craven and vengeful nature of an aristocrat. Also, a kind warning to those well-heeded families, don’t ever let your young kids ride a horse, this and GONE WITH THE WIND (1939) are two brutal examples.
BARRY LYNDON might fall short as a perfect epic because of it casts O’Neal as the lead, at the age of 33, he is mortifying in the opening when he supposes to be no more than a teenager, but thankfully, it transforms smoothly when Barry ages through the journey, but rarely his performance can galvanise the screen in the protracted duration, wanting of charisma debars audience from projecting a certain amount of sympathy to him, which is a dangerous defect for its epic scale. Even more befuddling is Berenson’s Lady Lyndon, who only have a few lines altogether and is one-sidedly portrayed as a mistress who has no talent in governing her man, her children and her wealth, suffice to be Kubrick’s last nail in the coffin for the doomed royalty. Numerous supporting characters come and go, barely have their scene-stealing moments, bar Leon Vitali’s adult Lord Bullingdon, who is brilliant in the duelling part, Murray Melvin as Reverend Runt, whose malicious appearance is the barometer of haughtiness and Marie Kean as Barry’s mother, unwittingly eggs him on to his ruin. Another chief accolade should be given to Leonard Rosenman, the music adaptor who won an Oscar for wondrously concatenating Kubrick’s favourites classical pieces into the epic length, embellishes the narrative seamlessly and becomes the ballast for a great viewing experience.
Winning four Oscars, BARRY LYNDON is notably being the most acknowledged features of Kubrick, but ironically, Kubrick lost all three nominations under his name (BEST PICTURE, BEST DIRECTOR and BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY). Probably not his best work, but unmistakably, it is an indomitable piece of cinematic wonder, not just for its exquisite etiquette, also an influential fable about breaking the royal orders.