Jodie Comer emerges as an early Oscar frontrunner in Ridley Scott’s bloody medieval epic, The Last Duel. Adapted from the book by Eric Jagger, the film recounts the historical events leading up to a trial by combat between French knight Jean de Carrouges and squire Jacques Le Gris. Who was accused of rape by Marguerite de Carrouges. The Last Duel is told in a Rashomon-style narrative where the sexual assault is seen from different points of view. The savage battle scenes, feudal politics, and religious patriarchy are fascinating. But a glaring problem becomes evident early on. The Last Duel marginalizes the victim by making her part of the story purely reactionary.
In late 14th century Normandy, Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) is known as a fierce warrior with an irascible personality. His headstrong demeanor and battlefield tactics were not appreciated by his vassal lord, the hedonistic Count Pierre d’Alençon (Ben Affleck). Whereas the handsome squire Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) was widely admired for his intelligence and tenacity. The men were loyal allies on the battlefield. A relationship that changed dramatically after an arranged marriage.
The beautiful Marguerite de Thibouville (Jodie Comer), educated and sophisticated, came from a family with a troubled name. Her father was reviled for an earlier transgression against the French monarchy. Marguerite’s substantial dowry was a valuable prize. A marriage to Jean de Carrouges made him money and cleared her family’s name…if she could provide a male heir. The thirst for combat and spoils continually draws Jean de Carrouges away from his home. He returns from Scotland to a distraught Marguerite. Jacques Le Gris paid her a visit while he was gone.
The Last Duel has a high production value. Director Ridley Scott (Alien, Gladiator) immerses you into every facet of Norman life. The lords and ladies at court are juxtaposed by the serfs working the land. But everyone owes money to a higher up that can inflict some variance of pain. Jean de Carrouges inability to curry favor to his lord proves tremendously detrimental. While Jacque Le Gris’ skillful manipulation accrues power. I found the political intrigue to be quite interesting. Limbs getting hacked off by swords, eyeballs gouged, and stunning jousts were all expected. Scott’s deep dive into the feudal system was a pleasant surprise.
A Middle Age woman had no recourse for justice against sexual violence, except through a man willing to fight for her. Putting them both at risk of an awful death. Jodie Comer is sensational in a gutsy performance. She doesn’t get nearly enough screen time, but makes a heartfelt impact. Two-thirds of the plot has the male lead characters dictating what happened to her. This is done purposely to a degree. The Last Duel wants to show the vile behavior of the church and misogynistic social construct that devalued women. Then gives her the shortest chapter to express the horror of being brutally raped and its fearful aftermath. An oversight that shows the filmmakers didn’t heed the lessons they were trying to teach. The Last Duel is produced by Pearl Street Films and Scott Free Productions. It will be released theatrically on October 15th from 20th Century Studios.
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