After her successful portrayal of cinema’s most notorious bunny boiler, Close was called upon one year later to play another manipulative female character. This time it was the dastardly Marquise de Mertuil in Dangerous Liaisons, an adaptation of Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos.
Close portrays Merteuil as a strong woman who attempts to play games with men to avenge the way her sex is treated. Her latest scheme involves getting one over on a former lover by attempting to break in his new fiancée, the virginal Cécile de Volanges, and therefore making a mockery of him in society. To do so she enlists the help of the similarly despicable Vicomte de Valmont who refuses to take part in her plot to deflower Cécile. His primary reason for this refusal is that he’s already attempting to seduce another virtuous soul in Madame de Tourvel, a married woman who is currently staying with aunt. Merteuil believes that Valmont doesn’t have a chance with Tourvel and makes a wager to this affect making herself the prize. From there the games really start to begin as Valmont manipulates his way around society, professing his love for Tourvel and staging charitable deeds in the hope that she’ll see him as a decent man. Eventually, after making a discovery, Valmont agrees to seduce Cécile, an act that proves a lot easier than he first suspected. With a lot of double crossing and sexual encounters along the way, the ending of Dangerous Liaisons is fairly touching. I have to say that I wasn’t expecting the sort of conclusion that the film offered and for that reason alone it really surprised me.
Having watched a lot of costume dramas throughout the decades, I can’t say without a doubt that Dangerous Liaisons heralded in a new era for the genre. While the Oscar-winning production design and costumes remained fairly traditional the tone of the film was anything just. The tone can be attributed to Christopher Hampton, whose adapted screenplay was incredibly well-placed and was a worthy winner of an Oscar itself. Hampton’s mischievous script was full of sexually charged conversations and manipulative characters that generally would have been secondary characters in other costume dramas. Neither Merteuil nor Valmont are particularly likeable characters but it’s their hedonistic lifestyle and manipulation of others that makes them so intriguing. Hampton makes sure that neither is considered caricatures and includes scenes in which both explain their motivations for behaving as they do. The supporting characters add different elements to the plot whether it is the piety displayed by Tourvel or the wide-eyed innocence of the ditzy Cécile.
Of the two films I’ve see her in most recently Close is definitely more comfortable playing Merteuil primarily as her vengeance is portrayed as a way of getting back at all the men that have wronged her. Close is great both in her character’s scenes with Valmont and those in which she is forced to act as an upstanding pillar of society. Close also shares a brilliant chemistry with John Malkovich who delivers a scenery-chewing performance as the dastardly Valmont. Malkovich controls every scene he’s in and I believe it’s an absolute travesty that he wasn’t nominated for his role in the film. Instead, the other nomination went to Michelle Pfieffer who was great at playing the pure Tourvel and in particular portraying her eventual love for Valmont. While I personally enjoyed Uma Thurman’s turn as Cécile I felt that Keanu Reeves was miscast as her lover and music teacher Danceny. In fact, as Danency plays a vital part in the closing stages of the film, I would’ve thought that somebody with a bit more experience would’ve been cast. But that’s a minor quibble of a lavishly exotic film that played with the boundaries of the costume drama genre and had fun doing it. Once again it demonstrated that Close was great at playing strong, slightly unhinged female characters.
Ironically, Close’s most recent nomination saw her play a woman who was much more at home in her regular guise as a man. I really do hope that Close one day gets her day in the sun and wins an Oscar because, judging from what I’ve seen in the 1980s alone, she more than deserves it.