Movie audiences will lap up Quills with the same guilty pleasure that fans of his work Justine do in the film. It is a wonderfully subversive work, wonderfully acted and over-the-top. Quills is adapted by Doug Wright from his award winning play and gives fictional account of his latter days in Charenton Asylum, where he spent his last decade. Even imprisoned, the Marquis is able to write, publish, and be an all-around thorn in the side to many French.

Madeleine (Kate Winslet, Holy Smoke, Hideous Kinky), a laundress, smuggles out the Marquis' (Geoffrey Rush, Mystery Men, The House on Haunted Hill) writings when changing his linens. The Marquis lives in relative splendor for someone committed. Abbe Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix, The Yards, Gladiator) allows him to write because he feels it is therapeutic and will help in reforming the Marquis. With the publication of Justine, Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine, Get Carter, The Cider House Rules), a hard-nosed man with no tolerance for immorality.

Maybe it is a sign of movies today, but the scenes in Quills do not seem that risque (well, okay, one scene of near-necrophilia pushes the envelope pretty far). Director Philip Kaufman (Rising Sun, Henry and June) does not need to show such scenes when he can just as easily have characters read them with wild abandon. They sneak his books around, reading them amongst people like friends sharing a dirty secret. The effect is still there without the need for exploitative cinema. Most everything takes place in the bowels of Charenton, which resembles a dungeon more than an asylum. Royer-Collard's 'methods' to cure the patients seem more like torture instead of treatment, and help further the dungeon imagery. And these just hint at the Marquis' work.

Quills is more about the Marquis' influence on those around him than on the Marquis himself. However, Rush does a wonderful job, with a role that gives him ample opportunity to be subtle at some times and flamboyant at others. He delivers his numerous double-entendres with glee. It is impossible to distinguish is the Marquis is insane or just playing a complex mind game with everyone around him. Caine and Phoenix also play atypical roles, with Caine radiating evil and Phoenix voicing reason and calm at almost every opportunity. In a way, the Marquis is the person in charge of Charenton. With Royer-Collard in place, the Marquis still seems to wield the upper hand. Coulmier may believe he is reforming the Marquis, but it is actually the Marquis influencing him. Kaufman takes no time with setting up the story and immediately drops viewers into the thick of things. His entire tone is one of playful irreverence and a willingness to flaunt conventional thinking. Underneath all of this is the message of freedom of expression, which Kaufman slips in slyly without anyone noticing until it's too late.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
2 hours, 3 minutes, Rated R for strong sexual content including dialogue, violence, and language.

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