Critics Consensus

Though hard to watch, this film's disturbing exploration of freedom of expression is both seductive and thought-provoking.



Total Count: 126


Audience Score

User Ratings: 45,547
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Movie Info

The Marquis de Sade was a man who liked to stir up trouble, at a time when his native France was in a state of tremendous political turmoil, and this historical drama examines how much controversy he could cause even under repressive circumstances. In the aftermath of the French Revolution, the Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush) manages to narrowly escape execution during the Reign of Terror, and instead is sentenced to the Charenton Asylum for the Insane. Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), the priest who heads the asylum, is sympathetic to the political machinations that have put the Marquis in his care, and allows him not only to write what he pleases, but to stage theater pieces using the other patients as actors. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine), a tyrannical doctor overseeing the mental institutions of Napoleonic France, is as outraged as the emperor when he reads Justine, a scabrous volume the Marquis penned while an inmate at Charenton, and he demands that de Sade be stopped. But Royer-Collard soon learns that stopping the Marquis from writing is not so simple; when de Sade's quills and ink are taken from him, he uses wine and even his own blood to write his stories. When these options are no longer available, he dictates his work with the help of Madeline (Kate Winslet), a laundry girl working at the asylum, who is fascinated by the notorious de Sade, though she declines his frequent requests to satisfy his notorious sexual appetites. Based on the play by Doug Wright (who also penned the screenplay), Quills was directed by Philip Kaufman, who previously documented the line between eroticism and literature in Henry and June and The Unbearable Lightness of Being. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi


Geoffrey Rush
as The Marquis de Sade
Kate Winslet
as Madeleine
Joaquin Phoenix
as Abbe Coulmier
Michael Caine
as Dr. Royer-Collard
Billie Whitelaw
as Madame LeClerc
Jane Menelaus
as Renee Pelagie
Michael Jenn
as Cleante
Harry Jones
as Orvolle
Bridget McConnel
as Madame Bougival
Pauline McLynn
as Mademoiselle Clairwil
Toby Sawyer
as Louison
Diana Morrison
as Mademoiselle Renard
Carol MacReady
as Sister Noirceuil
Tom Ward
as The Horseman
Ron Cook
as Napoleon
Julian Tait
as Pawnbroker
Tessa Vale
as Sister Flavie
Howard Lew Lewis
as First Vendor
Andrew Dunford
as Second Vendor
Lisa B. Hammond
as Prostitute
Matthew Fraser
as Lunatic Band Member
Jamie Beddard
as Lunatic at Play
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Critic Reviews for Quills

All Critics (126) | Top Critics (40) | Fresh (95) | Rotten (31)

Audience Reviews for Quills

  • Dec 17, 2013
    It's surprising to see a blockbuster film focusing on such controversial topics. Quills is about the years in which Marquis de Sade was incarcerated in asylum and a young woman who secretly helps him to publish his works. I love the artistic direction of the film, the set design and costumes were brilliant. Despite having convey the beauty of libertinism, it was historically inaccurate, also at times the film can be difficult to enjoy. Kate Winslet surprised me with her performance, as well as many other big stars, who I'd never thought in a million year to star in this film. The only problem i have with this film is that everyone speaks in a pretentious English accent when the film was clearly set in France. Quills is a film that best to be avoided by most people, unless you are into something provocative.
    Sylvester K Super Reviewer
  • May 29, 2013
    There it is: another "historical" movie, good one I'll say, but with no accuracy at all! Why directors cannot at least, try to make an honest movie with things that actually happened. Don't tell me that the life of Marquis de Sade wasn't exciting enough that the screenwriters had to mix up the events and add things that never happened! The director Philip Kaufman's movie re-imagines the last years of the Marquis' incarceration in the insane asylum at Charenton... and does that really well with the help of the stars Geoffrey Rush as the Marquis de Sade, Joaquin Phoenix as the Abbé du Coulmier, Michael Caine as Dr. Royer-Collard, and Kate Winslet as laundress Madeleine "Maddie" LeClerc. Rush was exceptional, which resulted in nominations for an Oscar and a Golden Globe. About the factual inaccuracies, writers said they were not making a biography of de Sade, but exploring issues such as censorship, pornography, sex, art, mental illness, and religion... but somehow they managed to do all that simplifying de Sade's complex life! Overall experience was positive, and you could enjoy this R rated movie if you are ready to accept that most of it is a product of imagination, not real events.
    Panta O Super Reviewer
  • May 04, 2013
    Quills is the sort of historical period piece that is frustrating, feeling both fascinating and inaccessible. The film revolves around Marquis de Sade, a nefarious and deeply troubled aristocrat with a knack for causing controversy with his explicit writings. The film documents his relationship with a chamber maid, who helps smuggle out his writings, and the ramifications of it. The film's take on de Sade is fascinating. It portrays a man that is relentless in his quest to spread his vile writings, with Geoffrey Rush giving a very fine performance. We see a self obsessed, driven, but certainly psychotic man. The film uses this to examine themes of expression and moral ambiguity, which I appreciated. It's also matched with equally strong performances by Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix, and, above all, Michael Caine. Where the film becomes frustrating, however, is in the supporting characters. Their actions never seem believable, and are frustratingly irrational. It's as if they are acting as they would in the mind of de Sade, without any respect to the actual context of the situation. Their character arcs don't feel organic to the events that are transpiring, making the film often disengaging and hard to watch. This is especially true of Kate Winslet's character, whose fascination with de Sade is never fully explored, and with Phoenix's character, who is simply written as an ignorant, highly emotional, and weak man. The themes the film brings up are interesting, but without other dynamic characters to compliment Rush, it's of no use. The dramatic action of Quills never seems to culminate in anything. There's interesting points, but to no real payoff to them. Overall, there's enough here to hold your interest, with a good premise, but a frustrating execution. 3/5 Stars
    Jeffrey M Super Reviewer
  • Jul 03, 2012
    Sure it is gross at times and vile and whatever else you want to be offended by but you can't avoid the great performance of Geoffrey Rush as the Marquis de Sade. Scandalous but memorable.
    John B Super Reviewer

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