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Dangerous Liaisons

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Dangerous Liaisons
Directed by Stephen Frears
Produced by Norma Heyman
Hank Moonjean
Written by Christopher Hampton
Starring Glenn Close
John Malkovich
Michelle Pfeiffer
Music by George Fenton
Cinematography Philippe Rousselot
Editing by Mick Audsley
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s)
  • December 16, 1988
Running time 119 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget US$14 million
Box office $34.7 million (USA)
Dangerous Liaisons is a 1988 drama film based upon Christopher Hampton's play Les liaisons dangereuses, which in turn was a theatrical adaptation of the 18th-century French novel Les Liaisons dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos.
The film was directed by Stephen Frears.[1] The performances of Glenn Close, John Malkovich and Michelle Pfeiffer, the cinematography of Philippe Rousselot, the costume design by James Acheson, and the screenplay by Christopher Hampton, garnered critical acclaim. Swoosie Kurtz and Mildred Natwick appeared in supporting roles, as did young relatively unknown actors Keanu Reeves and Uma Thurman.
The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including "Best Picture"; it won those for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Costume Design, and Best Art Direction.[2][3]



The Marquise de Merteuil (Glenn Close) appears to be virtuous and upstanding but is, in fact, a sexually ravenous, amoral schemer who plays games with men out of bitterness at the constricted station of women in her society. She decides to exact revenge on a recent lover by having his young new fiancée, Cécile de Volanges (Uma Thurman), the daughter of Merteuil's cousin Madame de Volanges (Swoosie Kurtz), seduced and ruined. Merteuil calls on her sometime partner, the rakish and similarly amoral Vicomte de Valmont (John Malkovich), to do the deed. At first, Valmont refuses her proposition; he is busy trying to seduce the virtuous Madame de Tourvel (Michelle Pfeiffer), who is spending time at his aunt's manor house while her husband is abroad.
Upon discovering that the uptight and superficial Madame de Volanges had been secretly writing to Madame de Tourvel to warn her against his evil nature, Valmont changes his mind and decides to follow Merteuil's scheme. They take advantage of the fact that young Cécile is secretly in love with her music teacher, the Chevalier Raphael Danceny (Keanu Reeves), who is poor and therefore does not qualify in the eyes of her mother as a potential suitor.
At his aunt's manor, Valmont tricks Cécile into providing access to her bedchamber so that he can deliver Danceny's love letters unobserved, but instead shows up and rapes her as she pleads with him to leave. Over breakfast the next morning, he taunts a visibly distressed Cécile, and she runs from the room in tears. Later that night, he attempts to enter her room again, but she has barred her door and is seen sobbing within her chamber. Madame de Volanges, distraught by her daughter's sudden state of illness, calls upon Merteuil to speak to Cécile. Merteuil advises Cécile to consensually continue an affair with Valmont, telling her she should take advantage of all the lovers she can acquire in a life so constricted by her gender. Cécile takes her advice and later becomes pregnant with Valmont's child, but suffers a miscarriage, thus avoiding a scandal.
Valmont meanwhile steadily targets his main prey, Madame de Tourvel, who, despite suspecting his base motives, eventually gives in to his tireless advances. However, Valmont, the lifelong womanizer, has unexpectedly fallen in love with Tourvel.
Merteuil had promised Valmont a night in her company should he be successful in his scheme to seduce Madame de Tourvel and provide written proof of his conquest. Nevertheless, secretly jealous of Tourvel, she refuses to grant Valmont his prize unless he breaks off with Tourvel completely; Merteuil threatens to ruin his proud reputation as a debaucher. Valmont, his ego damaged, heeds her request and coldly leaves Tourvel, who falls desperately ill. Valmont goes back to Merteuil, who in the meantime has taken Chevalier Danceny as her lover. Valmont arranges for Danceny to leave Merteuil for Cecile, which leads to him once again demanding the immediate fulfillment of her promise. The Marquise refuses, and they declare war.
The Marquise reveals to Danceny that Valmont had seduced Cécile. Danceny challenges Valmont to a duel. Guilty and despairing, Valmont allows Danceny to fatally wound him. Before he dies, he asks Danceny to visit Tourvel and assure her of his true love; Valmont also hands him a collection of letters from Merteuil that detail her scheming. After hearing Valmont's message from Danceny, Madame de Tourvel dies. Danceny publishes Merteuil's letters, which become a scandal, and she is booed and disgraced by the audience at the opera. The movie closes as she suffers a breakdown while removing her make-up.


  • Glenn Close as Marquise de Merteuil: a member of the French nobility, the Marquise has been forced to comply with the social rules of her gender at that time. Strong-willed and ambitious, she has grown spiteful from consistently being forced to "keep quiet and do as told" by the male gender, and so she has made it her business to do whatever she could to dominate the male gender, and avenge her own.

    The Marquise de Merteuil (Glenn Close) and the Vicomte de Valmont (John Malkovich)
    She is portrayed as a cunning, manipulative and immoral woman, who uses her beauty and extraordinary intelligence to both maintain her position on the French social hierarchy, but also to avenge herself on anyone who has wronged her in the past. Her malevolent, libertine nature, however, is kept well hidden from most people, as she created a façade of moral righteousness which makes her look as a virtuous and puritan woman to almost everyone in her entourage.
  • John Malkovich as Vicomte de Valmont: an arrogant, suave and extremely manipulative sexual predator, the Vicomte takes advantage of the social limitations of the female gender at the time to benefit himself as much as possible. Cynical, compelling, charismatic and powerful, the Vicomte uses his position to get anything (or anyone) he wants. As he begins genuinely to fall in love with Madame de Tourvel, a softer, more caring side of him is revealed. However, the Marquise de Merteuil's tight grip over him causes him to abandon that small inkling of morality and betray the one woman he loved, eventually leading to his demise.
  • Michelle Pfeiffer as Madame de Tourvel
  • Swoosie Kurtz as Madame de Volanges
  • Keanu Reeves as Le Chevalier Raphael Danceny
  • Mildred Natwick as Madame de Rosemonde
  • Uma Thurman as Cécile de Volanges
  • Peter Capaldi as Azolan


Dangerous Liaisons was the first English-language film adaptation of Laclos's novel, and was based on Christopher Hampton's Olivier Award-winning and Tony Award-nominated theatrical adaptation for the Royal Shakespeare Company,[4] directed by Howard Davies and featuring Lindsay Duncan, Alan Rickman and Juliet Stevenson.
The film was shot entirely on location in France, specifically in the région of Île-de-France, and featured historical buildings such as the Château de Vincennes in Val-de-Marne, the Château de Champs-sur-Marne, the Château de Guermantes in Seine-et-Marne, the Château du Saussay in Essonne, and the Théâtre Montansier in Versailles.[5]
The original score was written by George Fenton, while the soundtrack included baroque and classical works by Antonio Vivaldi, Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel and Christoph Willibald Gluck.[6]
This was the final film appearance of Academy Award- and Tony Award-nominated actress Mildred Natwick, who played the role of Madame de Rosemonde.[7]
Drew Barrymore auditioned for the role of Cécile, and Sarah Jessica Parker actually turned the role down, before it eventually went to Uma Thurman.[7]


Dangerous Liaisons holds a score of 93% on Rotten Tomatoes,[8] and a score of 74 on Metacritic,[9] indicating a positive critical reception.
Pauline Kael in The New Yorker described it as "heaven – alive in a way that movies rarely are."[9] Hal Hinson in the Washington Post wrote that the film's "wit and immediacy is extraordinarily rare in a period film. Instead of making the action seem far off, the filmmakers put the audience in the room with their characters."[10] Roger Ebert called it "an absorbing and seductive movie."[11] Variety considered it an "incisive study of sex as an arena for manipulative power games."[12] Vincent Canby in The New York Times hailed it as a "kind of lethal drawing-room comedy."[13]
Christopher Hampton received critical acclaim for his screenplay, with Time Out writing that "one of the film's enormous strengths is scriptwriter Christopher Hampton's decision to go back to the novel, and save only the best from his play."[14] James Acheson and Stuart Craig were also praised for their work, with Sheila Benson of the Los Angeles Times stating that "the film's details of costuming (by The Last Emperor's James Acheson) and production design (by Stuart Craig of Gandhi and The Mission) are ravishing."[9] All three would go on to win Academy Awards for their work on this film.
Glenn Close received considerable praise for her performance; she was lauded by The New York Times for her "richness and comic delicacy,"[13] while Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote that, once she "finally lets loose and gives way to complete animal despair, Close is horrifying."[9] Roger Ebert thought the two lead roles were "played to perfection by Close and Malkovich... their arch dialogues together turn into exhausting conversational games, tennis matches of the soul."[11]
Michelle Pfeiffer was also widely acclaimed for her portrayal, despite playing, in the opinion of the Washington Post, "the least obvious and the most difficult" role. "Nothing is harder to play than virtue, and Pfeiffer is smart enough not to try. Instead, she embodies it."[10] The New York Times called her performance a "happy surprise."[13] Roger Ebert, considering the trajectory of her career, wrote that "in a year that has seen her in varied assignments such as Married to the Mob and Tequila Sunrise, the movie is more evidence of her versatility. She is good when she is innocent and superb when she is guilty."[11] Pfeiffer would later win a British Academy Film Award for her performance.
The casting of John Malkovich proved to be a controversial decision that divided critics. The New York Times, while admitting there was the "shock of seeing him in powdered wigs", concluded that he was "unexpectedly fine. The intelligence and strength of the actor shape the audience's response to him."[13] The Washington Post was similarly impressed with Malkovich's performance: "There's a sublime perversity in Frears' casting, especially that of Malkovich... [he] brings a fascinating dimension to his character that would be missing with a more conventionally handsome leading man."[10] Variety was less impressed, stating that while the "sly actor conveys the character's snaky, premeditated Don Juanism... he lacks the devilish charm and seductiveness one senses Valmont would need to carry off all his conquests."[12]

Awards and nominations

At the 61st Academy Awards, Dangerous Liaisons won three Oscars out of seven nominations, for Best Adapted Screenplay (Christopher Hampton), Best Costume Design (James Acheson), and Best Art Direction (Stuart Craig and Gérard James). Its four unsuccessful nominations were for Best Actress (Glenn Close), Best Supporting Actress (Michelle Pfeiffer), Best Original Score (George Fenton), and the Academy Award for Best Picture.[3] Director Stephen Frears and lead actor John Malkovich were not nominated.
At the 43rd British Academy Film Awards, Michelle Pfeiffer won for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, and Christopher Hampton won for Best Screenplay. The film received a further eight nominations, in the categories of Best Direction (Stephen Frears), Best Actress in a Leading Role (Close), Best Cinematography (Philippe Rousselot), Best Costume Design (Acheson), Best Original Film Score (Fenton), Best Editing (Mick Audsley), Best Make Up Artist (Jean-Luc Russier) and Best Production Design (Craig).[3]
In addition to his Oscar and BAFTA awards, Christopher Hampton also won the London Critics Circle Film Award for Screenwriter of the Year, and the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.[3]
Stephen Frears won the César Award for Best Foreign Film[3] and Best Director from the Boston Society of Film Critics. The film was second only to Mississippi Burning in the National Board of Review's Top 10 films.
Philippe Rousselot was nominated for both the American Society of Cinematographers Award and the British Society of Cinematographers Award.[3]

Les Liaisons dangereuses

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
The Dangerous Liaisons
LiaisonsDangereuses X.jpg
Illustration from 1796 edition
Author(s) Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
Original title Les Liaisons dangereuses
Translator P. W. K. Stone
Illustrator Fragonard
Country France
Language French
Genre(s) Epistolary novel, Libertine novel
Publisher Durand Neveu
Publication date March 23, 1782
Published in English 30 November 1961
Media type Print (Paperback)
Pages 400
ISBN 978-0-14-044116-1
OCLC Number 52565525
Les Liaisons dangereuses (French pronunciation: ​[le ljɛ.zɔ̃ dɑ̃.ʒə.ʁøz]; The Dangerous Liaisons) is a French epistolary novel by Choderlos de Laclos, first published in four volumes by Durand Neveu from March 23, 1782.
It is the story of the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont, two rivals (and ex-lovers) who use sex as a weapon to humiliate and degrade others, all the while enjoying their cruel games. It has been claimed to depict the decadence of the French aristocracy shortly before the French Revolution, thereby exposing the perversions of the so-called Ancien Régime. However, it has also been described as a vague, amoral story.
As an epistolary novel, the book is composed entirely of letters written by the various characters to each other. In particular, the letters between Valmont and the Marquise drive the plot, with those of other characters serving as illustrations to give the story its depth.
It is often claimed to be the source of the saying "Revenge is a dish best served cold", a paraphrased translation of "La vengeance est un plat qui se mange froid" (more literally, "Revenge is a dish that is eaten cold"). However the expression does not actually occur in the original novel in any form.


Plot summary

The Vicomte de Valmont is determined to seduce the virtuous (and married) Madame de Tourvel, who is living with Valmont's aunt while Monsieur de Tourvel, a magistrate, is away on a court case. At the same time, the Marquise de Merteuil is determined to corrupt the young Cécile de Volanges, whose mother has only recently brought her out of a convent to be married – to Merteuil's recent lover, who has become bored with her and discarded her. Cécile falls in love with the Chevalier Danceny (her music tutor) and Merteuil and Valmont pretend to want to help the secret lovers in order to gain their trust, so that they can use them later in their own schemes.
Merteuil suggests that the Vicomte seduce Cécile in order to exact her revenge on Cécile's future husband. Valmont refuses, finding the task too easy, and preferring to devote himself to seducing Madame de Tourvel. Merteuil promises Valmont that if he seduces Madame de Tourvel and provides her with written proof, she will spend the night with him. He expects rapid success, but does not find it as easy as his many other conquests. During the course of his pursuit, he discovers that Cécile's mother has written to Madame de Tourvel about his bad reputation. He avenges himself in seducing Cécile as Merteuil had suggested. In the meantime, Merteuil takes Danceny as a lover.
By the time Valmont has succeeded in seducing Madame de Tourvel, it is suggested that he might have fallen in love with her. Jealous, Merteuil tricks him into deserting Madame de Tourvel – and reneges on her promise of spending the night with him. In response Valmont reveals that he prompted Danceny to reunite with Cécile, leaving Merteuil abandoned yet again. Merteuil declares war on Valmont, and in revenge she reveals to Danceny that Valmont has seduced Cécile. Danceny and Valmont duel, and Valmont is fatally wounded. Before he dies he is reconciled with Danceny, giving him the letters proving Merteuil's own involvement. These letters are sufficient to ruin her reputation and she flees to the countryside, where she contracts smallpox. Her face is left permanently scarred and she is rendered blind in one eye, so she loses her greatest asset: her beauty. But the innocent also suffer from the protagonist's schemes: hearing of Valmont's death, Madame de Tourvel succumbs to a fever and dies, while Cécile returns to the convent.

Illustration by Fragonard for Letter XLIV, 1796.

Literary significance and criticism

Les Liaisons dangereuses is celebrated for its exploration of seduction, revenge, and human malice, presented in the form of fictional letters collected and published by a fictional author. The book was viewed as scandalous at the time of its initial publication, though the real intentions of the author remain unknown. It has been suggested that Laclos's intention was the same as that of his fictional author in the novel; to write a morality tale about the corrupt, squalid nobility of the Ancien Régime. However, this theory has been questioned on several grounds. In the first place, Laclos enjoyed the patronage of France's most senior aristocrat – the duc d'Orléans. Secondly, all the characters in the story are aristocrats, including the virtuous heroines – Madame de Tourvel and Madame de Rosemonde. Finally, many ultra-royalist and conservative figures enjoyed the book, including Queen Marie-Antoinette, which suggests that – despite its scandalous reputation – it was not viewed as a political work until the events of the French Revolution years later made it appear as such, with the benefit of hindsight.
Wayland Young notes that most critics have viewed the work as
... a sort of celebration, or at least a neutral statement, of libertinism... pernicious and damnable... Almost everyone who has written about it has noted how perfunctory are the wages of sin..."[1]
He argues, however, that
... the mere analysis of libertinism… carried out by a novelist with such a prodigious command of his medium... was enough to condemn it and play a large part in its destruction.[1]
In a well known essay on Les Liaisons dangereuses, which has often been used as a preface to French editions of the novel, André Malraux argues that, despite its debt to the libertine tradition, Les Liaisons dangereuses is more significant as the introduction of a new kind of character in French fiction. The Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont, Malraux writes, are creations ‘without precedent’. They are ‘the first [in European literature] whose acts are determined by an ideology'.[2]
In a manner, Les Liaisons dangereuses is a literary counterthesis to the epistolary novel as executed with Richardson's Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded. Whereas Richardson uses the technique of letters to provide the reader with a feeling of knowing the protagonist's true and intimate thoughts, Laclos' use of this literary device is exactly opposite: by presenting the reader with grossly conflicting views from the same writer when addressing different recipients, it is left to the reader to reconcile story, intentions and characters behind the letters. The use of duplicitous characters with one virtuous face can be viewed as a complex criticism of the immensively popular naive moral epistolary novel.


The novel has been adapted into various media, under many different names.





  • An eight-part adaptation of the novel was broadcast as BBC Radio 4's "Woman's Hour Drama" (20–30 July 1992). It starred Juliet Stevenson, Samuel West, Melinda Walker, Diana Rigg, and Roger Allam.
  • A two-part presentation of Christopher Hampton's play by BBC World Service in 1998. It starred Ciarán Hinds (Vicomte de Valmont), Lindsay Duncan (Marquise de Merteuil), and Emma Fielding (Mme. de Tourvel). It won the Grand Award for Best Entertainment Program at the New York Radio Festival.


Piet Swerts: Les Liaisons dangereuses. 17.12.1996.Gent (Wordpremiere) .Marilyn Schmiege (soprano).Francois Le Roux (bar). Lyne Fortin (sopr). Jocelyne Taillon (mezzo).Mireille Capelle (mezzo).Marie-Noelle de Callatay (sopr). Cecile de Volanges.Marc Tucker (ten) Romain Bisschoff (bar). Petra van Tendeloo (sopr). Piet Vansichen (bajo). Dir.: Patrick Davin


  • David Nixon, currently Artistic Director of Northern Ballet Theatre in Leeds, choreographed a ballet version of Dangerous Laisons, with music by Vivaldi. It was first performed as part of a mixed program entitled "David Nixon’s Liaisons" - at the Hebbel Theatre, Berlin in 1990. He subsequently reworked it for BalletMet, with the premier taking place in the Ohio Theatre on May 2, 1996.
  • In 2008, the Alberta Ballet performed a ballet version of Dangerous Liaisons.[6]


  • A Factory of Cunning (2005) a fictionalized sequel by Philippa Stockley, tells how the Marquise de Merteuil faked her death of smallpox and escaped to England with a new identity.


  1. ^ a b Young, 1966, p. 246
  2. ^ See the discussion in Derek Allan, 'Les Liaisons dangereuses through the eyes of André Malraux', Journal of European Studies. Vol. 42 (2), June 2012.
  3. ^ "Liaisons dangereuses, Les (1980)". The Internet Movie Database. 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-20.
  4. ^ "Plot summary for Liaisons dangereuses, Les (2003)". The Internet Movie Database. 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-20.
  5. ^ "The Dangerous Liaisons (1994)". The Internet Movie Database. 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-18.
  6. ^ http://www.albertaballet.com/users/folder.asp?FolderID=7075


 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  • Young, Wayland (1964). Eros Denied: Sex in Western Society. New York: Grove. ISBN 1-125-40416-7.
  • Diaconoff, Suellen (1979). Eros and power in Les Liaisons dangereuses: a study in evil. Geneva: Droz.

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