How’s this for a risk? Searchlight, the indie division of Fox, has plunged $14 million into a lush period piece about the Marquis de Sade, the 18th century Frenchman who whiled away his last decade in a mental hospital. Under the care of an indulgent young Catholic priest (Phoenix), he continues to write his incendiary and pornographic prose, which a sympathetic laundrywoman (Winslet) smuggles out to a publisher. But when Emperor Napoleon appoints a stern disciplinarian (Caine) to reform the asylum and break the Marquis’ will, there are dire consequences for everyone.
”[De Sade] was a bad boy. I was just amazed that a studio was willing to make something like this,” says director Kaufman, himself no stranger to extreme material or banned authors, having made ”Henry & June,” the steamy 1990 drama about novelist Henry Miller, which became the first movie to be rated NC-17.
Not only do the Marquis’ jailers seize his writing quills, but in the end they strip him — literally. ”It’s funny — I never actually felt naked,” says Rush. ”I just trust the director of photography was keeping the frame up so people weren’t distracted from what I was saying.” Given his provocative dialogue, he didn’t need to worry. GOOD SIGN With its letter perfect cast and top flight production, ”Quills” is already scratching up ink as an Oscar contender. THEN AGAIN As Rush jokes, ”the Marquis de Sade is a GREAT date movie.”