Equus (1977) - Rotten Tomatoes

Equus (1977)




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

Movie Info

Richard Burton plays a psychiatrist who attempts to discover why young Peter Firth has taken to mutilating live horses. In probing Firth's psyche, Burton discovers that the source of the boy's obsession is his mother, Joan Plowright, who has raised Firth with a convoluted set of values. Even as he gets closer to the reason behind Firth's horrendous acts, Burton discovers many previously locked-away secrets within himself. Equus was based on the play by Peter Schaffer who received an Academy Award Nomination for his adapted screenplay.more
Rating: R (adult situations/language, nudity, violence)
Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery & Suspense
Directed By:
Written By: Peter Shaffer
In Theaters:
On DVD: Mar 4, 2003
MGM Home Entertainment

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Richard Burton
as Martin Dysart
Peter Firth
as Alan Strang
Colin Blakely
as Frank Strang
Joan Plowright
as Dora Strang
Harry Andrews
as Harry Dalton
Eileen Atkins
as Magistrate Hesther S...
Jenny Agutter
as Jill Mason
John Wyman
as The Horseman
Kate Reid
as Margaret Dysart
Ken James
as Mr. Pearce
Elva Mai Hoover
as Miss Raintree
James Hurdle
as Mr. Davies
David Gardner
as Dr. Bennett
Patrick Brymer
as Hospital Patient
Sheldon Rybowski
as First Child
Sufi Bukhari
as Second Child
Anita Van Hezewyck
as Horse Trainer
Mark Parr
as Clown
Frazier Mohawk
as Ringmaster
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for Equus

Critic Reviews for Equus

All Critics (21) | Top Critics (3)

Full Review… | May 20, 2008
Top Critic

Full Review… | January 26, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

Full Review… | May 9, 2005
New York Times
Top Critic

Sidney Lumet's handling of the material doesn't miss a beat; the only real trace of an encroaching staginess can be found in some of Dysart's lengthy monologues.

Full Review… | April 18, 2014
Creative Loafing

A compelling thriller.

Full Review… | May 9, 2011
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

Sidney Lumet was just the right director for Equus, and just the wrong one.

Full Review… | December 3, 2010
Parallax View

Audience Reviews for Equus


Interesting, well acted but extremely grim. There's the feeling that a good deal of subtext was removed because of the times in which it was made. A prime candidate for a remake.

jay nixon

Super Reviewer


Peter Firth's performance definitely beat Daniel Radcliffe's one-note angst, but as a film, I don't think the story works. The climactic scenes (orgasm on Nugget, blinding of horses) contained within the cinematic frame lost much of the stage production's frenetic chaos. Didn't dig the breaking of the fourth wall either. Seemed like an uninspired choice.

Alice Shen

Super Reviewer

"I don't always watch movies, but when I do, I prefer 'Equus'". Oh, that must not be the most interesting man in the world after all, because just how interesting can you make a film about a teenager and a bunch of horses? ...Mind you, the film is actually about the zoophilic, religiously loony teenager in question stabbing the horses' eyes blind with a metal spike, but I don't know why Sidney Lumet has to take two hours and a quarter to talk about that, because he couldn't even keep a bank robbery consistently interesting for just a pinch over two hours. No, I quite liked "Dog Day Afternoon", as well as this film, although I'd figure that it's all about length with Lumet when it comes to intrigue, considering that "12 Angry Men" was so entertaining at 97 minutes, even though it didn't have the guts to actually show the kid they were talking about commit his crimes. Actually, I kind of like horses, and I would rather witness a castration than an eye-gouging, so it actually limits intrigue here, though not as much as retrospect, because, let's face it, how do you get more interesting than Harry Potter going full frontal? ...Well, Hermione Granger going the same way would have done the trick, but even now, we're going to have to settle with the "Equus" we are given, as surely as we had to settle for this "Equus" back in 1977. Hey, I'm more than willing to take it, because this film is mighty compelling, despite the lack of Harry's wand, in addition to other shortcomings.

Running a relatively whopping 137 minutes, this film is one of Sidney Lumet's longest, and as much as I joke about how that's too long, considering the minimalism of this story concept, the final length is achieved largely through fat around the edges, found in aimlessly expendable set pieces, as well as meandering dialogue, neither of which are as excessive as I feared, but excessive through and through, nevertheless. Although the film is consistently engaging, to one extent or another, it is repetitious, being slickly directed enough for you to not feel the length, but still so aimless, maybe even limp, particularly when questionably paced plot structuring is backed by lapses in Lumet's directorial pacing. As director, Lumet adopts an almost stagey dryness to his storytelling, and more often than you think, it succeeds near-remarkably in immersing you with a genuine thoughtfulness, thus, the final product is rarely, if ever all-out dull, but man, it sure can chill down at times, once written material to thoughtfully draw upon really flattens as too meandering for the steady storytelling to transcend blandness. This is a challenging film, not just because it's so dramatically and thematically weighty, but because its structure and direction might be a little too subdued to embrace, as they do certainly hold the film back in a number of ways, and yet, for me, they aren't too big of an issue, and are still the only notable consequential shortcomings here. Still, although the actual problems are lacking in quantity and severity, the final product stands far from outstanding, and the reason for that is, of course, natural shortcomings, because no matter how compelling this story concept is, it's light in scope, with only so much to say, no matter how much time storytelling dedicates to its themes. The natural shortcomings are actually so great that there are glimpses of underwhelmingness found here and there throughout this consistently inspired drama, and while the final product ultimately emerges as truly rewarding, it can go only so far enough without all of the excess and dryness. Still, make no bones about it, this film does, in fact, reward the patient, not as strong, but as recurrently thoroughly compelling, even in its light-scope story concept.

As I said, this film is held back a fair bit by its dramatic plot's having only so much actual scope, and yet, themes regarding the mental instability of a youth, and how it is influenced by religion, his peers, and a psychiatrist who comes to find great challenges to his abilities and to his views on many element regarding passion and life itself, craft actually engrossing subject matter, establishing a certain potential that surely relies a great deal on its written interpretation, considering the minimalism of the subject matter. The natural shortcomings are stressed by Peter Shaffer's script, which keeps the excess from the original play which Shaffer himself wrote that doesn't exactly translate to film particularly organically, yet doesn't exactly overshadow the strengths in Shaffer's writing, which is never short on sharp dialogue and extensive characterization that audaciously establishes edgy characters, backed by gripping themes that truly resonate because of Sidney Lumet's storytelling efforts. Lumet even delivers on directorial style, which is subtle, mind you, but realized enough in its providing haunting visuals for Oswald Morris' cinematography to polish, and in its utilizing Richard Rodney Bennett's biting score, to liven things up, yet only occasionally. Style is actually rarely used for the sake of style, being generally subdued in order to supplement substance by combining with Lumet's directorial thoughtfulness, which is often too dry for engagement value to be consistently sustained, but even more often well-realized as gracefully subtle, immersive and, of course, resonant. Being that there's only so much momentum to this drama on paper, the moving highlights of resonance are somewhat rare, but compellingness never abates, and those highlights really shine a light on what could have been, anchored by powerful onscreen abilities. If nothing else is consistently effective, it is the performances, all of which are strong, with the strongest being by the leads, whether it be Richard Burton as a charismatic psychiatrist who seems to gradually transform when he begins to observe life more closely through a patient, or the show-stealing Peter Firth, whose profoundly layered and emotive portrayal of an unstable lad filled with fear, passion and anguish ranges from engaging to mesmerizingly transcendent. Firth is simply marvelous, and Burton isn't too shabby either, and although the other, offscreen performances fall quite a ways short of being as effective on the whole, inspiration is found in most every area of this drama, which should compel the patient thoroughly enough thoroughly reward.

When the sessions are concluded, a great deal of dragging and a little bit of bland dryness allow you to soak in the natural shortcomings to this light-scale story concept which most hold the final product back, but by no means to where intriguing - nay - thought-provoking subject matter isn't done enough justice by razor-sharp writing, effective directorial style and thoughtfulness, and a pair of powerhouse performances by Richard Burton and, of course, Peter Firth to secure Sidney Lumet's "Equus" as a compelling, if not all-out engrossing portrait on the dark depths of passion.

3/5 - Good

Cameron W. Johnson
Cameron Johnson

Super Reviewer

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