Ken Russell's The Devils had the censors leaping for their scissors and, even in its approved form, it provoked outrage among churchgoers upon its release in 1971.
Hardly surprising due to Russell's halucinogenic portrayal of 17th-century French religion, complete with a lewd priest, a mass of masturbating possessed nuns, exceedingly bloody torture and, for the time, shocking nude scenes. But 36 years on, the film is now seen as a classic of British modern cinema, which helped to push the boundaries of acceptable content, some reckoning that it is Ken Russell's masterpiece.
One thing's for certain - it remains gob-smackingly and gut-wrenchingly weird, but the film has much to recommend it, especially Oliver Reed, who turns in a powerhouse performance as the charismatic Urbain Grandier, while Vanessa Redgrave provides solid support as hump-backed Sister Jeanne.
Based on the Aldous Huxley novel "The Devils of Loudon" and John Whiting's play "The Devils", the film is set in 17th-century France and examines religious and political persecution.
King Louis XIII (Graham Armitage) and Cardinal Richlieu (Christopher Logue) conspire to bring church and state together. After the citizens of Loudun drive back the King's troops under the guidance of Urbain Grandier (Reed), the Mother Superior of Loudun's convent, Sister Jeanne (Redgrave), becomes sexually obsessed with him. But her passion leads to one of vengeance as she confesses that an incubus named Grandier has visited her. The Church dispatch their chief exorcist, Father Barre (Michael Gothard), and aided by bloody torture he witnesses tales of demonic possession from most of the nuns. As the sadistic exorcists indulge themselves freely, Grandier is found guilty as charged...
Worth watching then, but it's not for the squeamish.