Words by Gerry Otim
Covering the topic of rape in film is an extremely difficult one. Depicting the pain and struggle that a character goes through, especially in the 14th century requires an awareness of the time period and sensitivity in the way such a topic is explored. That was the job of four-time academy winning director Ridley Scott, through his film adaptation of the novel ‘The Last Duel’, written by Eric Jagger. Based on a true story, viewers are taken on a journey in medieval France, which covers how the last legally sanctioned duel in the country came to fruition.
Scott was joined by the screenwriting skills of Nicole Holofencer, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, with both Damon and Affleck also producing and starring in the historical drama. The film centres around one incident from the perspectives of three characters and is split into three chapters, in similar fashion to the 1950 film ‘Rashomon’, directed by Akira Kurosawa, which also explored the rape of a woman from the perspective of multiple characters. Jean de Carrouges, played by Damon, is a well respected, yet brutal knight and the film explores his turbulent relationship with best friend, Jacques Le Gris, played by the Oscar nominated actor Adam Driver. Their relationship is concluded in a trial by combat duel to decide the fate of Le Gris, who is accused of raping Carrouges wife, Marguerite, played by Emmy-winning British actress Jodie Comer.
When discussing the conception of the movie, Holofencer, who wrote the third chapter of the movie, told Entertainment Weekly: “I loved the chance to be able to tell the story about this heroic woman who nobody knew anything about. To give her life.”
The third chapter depicts both the strengths and weaknesses of the movie. The first two chapters are necessary in setting the scene of the movie and building a narrative around the initial relationship between Carrouges and Le Gris. However, the chapters do somewhat drag and in doing so not only deprived viewers of the opportunity to see Marguerite’s truth but also the lives of women during the 14th century in France. The chapter also allows Comer to excel in her portrayal of Marguerite, where viewers are exposed to the pain she faced due to the rape and in her struggle to garner support for her claims against Le Gris. Rape being considered a crime against Carrouges rather than against Marguerite was a sad reflection of the times, where women were largely considered to be the property of a man. To be seen rather than heard.
Viewers are afforded insight into Marguerite’s perception of her marriage in chapter three, which vastly differs to that of Carrouges seen in chapter one. Chapter three falls in line with the violent, blood hungry reputation that Carrouges had garnered as a knight during this war-heavy period.
Affleck in his role as overlord Count Pierre d’Alençon did well in his attempts to counter the dark themes of the movie. Not only with his brightly coloured blonde hair but also with moments of humour and eccentricity from the character.
Splitting film into three clear chapters isn’t common practise but provides viewers with a different way of viewing film. Damon, Affleck and most importantly Holofencer use storytelling to explore the idea that our perception of truth as well as of ourselves isn’t necessarily reality. Despite the film dragging slightly, the third act which includes the battle between Carrouges and Le Gris is a gripping watch and highlights the courage shown by Marguerite in her quest for justice.