Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Hour of the Pig

I realise I have been a tad quiet of late... This is mainly as a result of the late Spring holiday this year, coupled with an urgent need to finish the second round of rewrites on my next book, Strictly Love (about which more over on the other place shortly).

Anyway. Recently BBC4 have been running a rather brilliant mediaeval season, which unfortunately I keep missing due to other commitments.

I was however rather pleased to come home from my swimming session on Monday night to discover that a film which Spouse and I have only ever seen once, but has gone down in legend among a select group of friends for being rather barkingly brilliant. It's called The Hour of the Pig (or The Advocate in America), and stars Colin Firth as a city lawyer from Paris who goes to a small French village for what he thinks is going to be a quiet life, only to discover that life in the country is anything but. There's murder, intrigue, lots and lots of raunchy sex (this film is not for the faint hearted, and I won't be recommending it to my mother as I mistakenly recommended American Beauty without having seen it...), a whole lot of corruption and Colin Firth in his prime. What more do you need?

[Spoiler Alert]

The first time I saw this film, was one Boxing Day in the early nineties. At the time we were living in our first home, in that prehistoric age before we had children. So we'd invited a whole gang of our mates from our fine local hostelry (which makes an appearance in Strictly Love in not very clever disguise if you're interested), for a drinks and nibbles thing. Of course we all drank far more then we nibbled and I ended up watching the film in a rather drunken haze. In fact, I realise now I must have been so drunk I think I fell asleep as a lot of the film when I watched in Monday was completely new to me.

The premise of the story is that Richard Courtois (Colin Firth) is the defence lawyer for the village. It is based in part on genuine mediaeval cases where lawyers had to defend animals, and Courtois's introduction to the village is to see a donkey being let off a charge of having had sex with a villager, on the basis that as a dumb animal she had no opportunity to say no and therefore technically it was rape. This sets the scene for the whole film. Like I say, it's not for the fainthearted...

Initially Courtois feels he can run rings round the prosecuting lawyer, Pinchon (played brilliantly by Donald Pleasance), getting his first client off a charge of murder. But when he has to defend the local witch, he discovers a very dark side to the way law is meted out in Ponthieu. Courtois' horror when he realises that rather then getting her off as he had assumed, the witch is going to hang, is extremely well observed. Before too long he is uncovering all sorts of nefarious goings on, as he seeks to find justice for a pig accused of murdering a young boy. The pig happens to belong to a group of Gypsies and though Courtois initially refuses to take the case, his curiosity about the secrets of the town and his attraction to the engimatic Gypsy, Samira (Amina Anabi), leads him to take the case.

My main memory of the film is of waking up in all the rude bits, of which there are many. Courtois not only gets to shag Maria (Sophie Dix) the maid at the inn he is staying in (which isn't actually an inn - he belatedly discovers courtesy of his more knowing clerk (Jim Clark) it's a brothel), but he also tumbles Samira too. Not only that, he's being set up to get married to the daughter of the local seigneur (Nicol Williamson), who has an annoying braying laugh, and of whom Willamson delivers the immortal lines (which have remained as legend to this day, among the select group of friends with whom we watched the film originally)"she's moist between the hams".

Watching it all the way through, and not in a drunken haze, I was actually really struck both by the brilliance of the script and the wonderful performance of Colin Firth. He is about a thousand times better here then he is as Mr Darcy. His character starts off as an idealistic and rather callow youth, a little full of his own self importance, but as the film unfolds he emerges as the only person of integrity in the town, standing up always for the oppressed and the poor. Though Samira offers him a delicate choice - as an Egyptian she is seen as almost less then animal, and Courtois struggles with his attraction to her - in a scene that sends shivers down my back he rescues her when the seigneur is about to let his soldiers loose on her. I never really bought into Colin Firth as Darcy heroic, but boy is he heroic here. It's absolutely fabulous. And the way he works out a cunning plan worthy of Baldrick to get the pig off at the end is hilarious.

Ultimately of course, he can't stay with Samira, because as she points out to him, she is just too different and almost animal like to him, despite his ability to look beyond the prejudices of the other villagers. And Pinchon makes him see that if he stays in Ponthieu, Courtois will end up as corrupt as the rest, so in the end, he heads back to the city wiser, his integrity still intact.

There's a great twist at the end, which was also one of the key things I remember . The witch doesn't curse the town before she's hung, but tells them a great blessing will come in the shape of a knight in armour. So when a crusader rides into town, everyone rushes to greet him, only to discover he carries the plague...

It is often the case that you watch something again and it disappoints, but this didn't. Watching it sober, meant I actually saw the whole thing and understood what had been going on. I have no idea how accurate it is historically, but it's great fun and gives a wonderful flavour of the times.

The only annoying thing was having waited all those years to see it come back on tv (it is quite hard to get a DVD version that isn't American), we'd saved it on our dvd player, only for me to wipe it accidentally.

Guess who's going to be trawling Amazon then...


Anonymous said...

*snort* (pig-like). you told your mother to watch american beauty! oooh - that first opening scene!

Jane Henry said...

I know, I know.... I gave the advice without seeing the film. I DID put the caveat in that it probably wasn't her thing... I certainly won't be recommending this, even though it's a lot less rude then I remember it!