Review: Barry Lyndon
Stanley Kubrick’s 18th century epic tells the story of Redmond Barry (Ryan O’Neal), beginning with his humble origins in Ireland right through to his rise into the aristocracy and ending with his eventual fall from grace. Barry begins with a passion for his cousin Nora (Gay Hamilton), which she is happy to reciprocate until she meets an English Captain John Quin (Leonard Rossiter). Barry challenges and kills the Captain in a duel and is then forced to flee from home. From Ireland, Barry ends up in Europe, fighting in the Seven Years (1756-63), with the British then the Prussians (long story!), before the opportunity for him to climb higher than ever in society comes along.
Barry woos and marries the Countess of Lyndon (Marisa Berenson) and takes the new name of Barry Lyndon. After years of toil Barry is rich and has everything he could ever hope for. Though Lady Lyndon loves her new husband dearly, Barry has seen her as nothing but another rung on the social ladder and his infidelities, drinking and gambling become the mainstays of his life with no room for his wife. It’s the idyll Barry has long dreamed of but he doesn’t count on the hatred from Lady Lyndon’s son, Lord Bullingdon (Dominic Savage), and as the years go by stepfather and stepson begin to lock horns constantly. Barry always has the upper hand while Lord Bullingdon is a boy but as he matures the stakes are raised and fierce battle lines are drawn from which only one man can emerge as the victor.
Kubrick’s sweeping epic weighs in at three hours and requires a lot of commitment from the audience but it is a wonderful journey. The settings are breathtaking, the costumes fantastic and you will feel fully immersed in eighteenth century society. Barry’s rise and fall is absorbing despite the change in his character. At the outset you will sympathise with the penniless Irish youth but will feel little towards the rich philanderer in the second half. O’Neal is both charming and ruthless in the lead but Barry Lyndon is all about Kubrick’s vision and though it wasn’t well received on initial release the film has deservedly earned many plaudits since.
Barry Lyndon was the last of Kubrick’s epics after Spartacus and 2001: A Space Odyssey and what a way to sign off. While the settings and costumes will stand in memory more than the characters, this is still an engaging film throughout and the classic rags to riches tale though Barry’s fortune is destined to never last. The film’s length may be off-putting to many but if you can look beyond that there is another classic Kubrick effort waiting to be discovered here.
(Film source: reviewer’s own copy)
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