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Dangerous Liaisons (1988) is a motion picture drama based upon Christopher Hampton's play, Les liaisons dangereuses, which in turn was a theatrical adaptation of the eighteenth-century French novel Les Liaisons dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos.

The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture and a further six Oscars, eventually winning the awards for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Costume Design, and Best Art Direction.

Director Stephen Frears, having enjoyed successes in Britishmarker cinema with My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), Prick Up Your Ears (1987) and Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1987), made his Hollywoodmarker début with this film.

The performances of Glenn Close, John Malkovich and Michelle Pfeiffer, the cinematography of Philippe Rousselot, the costume design by James Acheson, and in particular the screenplay by Christopher Hampton, garnered considerable critical acclaim.

Swoosie Kurtz and Mildred Natwick (in her final film) appeared in supporting roles, as did young relatively unknown actors Keanu Reeves and Uma Thurman, both of whom would go on to achieve fame in the 1990s, with starring roles in Speed (1994) and Pulp Fiction (1994) respectively.


The Marquise de Merteuil (Glenn Close) calls on her partner, the Vicomte de Valmont (John Malkovich), to seduce the young daughter of her cousin, Madame de Volanges (Swoosie Kurtz), in order to have revenge on a former lover, the man to whom young Cécile de Volanges (Uma Thurman) is promised in marriage. At first, Valmont refuses her proposition: he wants to seduce the virtuous Madame de Tourvel (Michelle Pfeiffer), who is spending time at his aunt's house while her husband is abroad.

Upon discovering that Madame de Volanges had been secretly writing to Madame de Tourvel to warn her against his evil nature, Valmont changes his mind and decides to follow Merteuil's scheme. They take advantage of the fact that young Cécile is in love with her music teacher, the Chevalier Danceny (Keanu Reeves), who does not qualify in the eyes of her mother as a potential suitor.

At his aunt's, Valmont tricks Cécile into providing access to her bedchamber, where he rapes her. Over breakfast the next morning, he taunts a visibly distressed Cécile, and she runs from the room in tears. Madame de Volanges, distraught by her daughter's sudden state of illness, calls upon Merteuil to speak to Cécile. Merteuil advises Cécile to consensually continue an affair with Valmont, telling her she should take advantage of all the lovers she can acquire in a life so constricted by her gender. Cécile takes her advice and later becomes pregnant with Valmont's child, but suffers a miscarriage, thus avoiding a scandal. Valmont meanwhile steadily targets his main prey, Madame de Tourvel, who, despite realizing his motives, eventually gives in to his tireless advances. However, Valmont, the lifelong womanizer, has fallen in love with Tourvel.

Merteuil had promised Valmont a night in her company should he be successful. Nevertheless, secretly jealous of Tourvel, she refuses to grant Valmont his prize unless he breaks off with Tourvel completely, and threatens to ruin his reputation as a debaucher. Valmont heeds her request and leaves Tourvel, who falls desperately ill. Valmont goes back to Merteuil, who in the meantime has taken Chevalier Danceny as her lover, and demands the immediate fulfillment of her promise. The Marquise refuses, and they declare war.

The Marquise reveals to Danceny that Valmont had seduced Cécile. Danceny and Valmont duel and, lovesick and disinterested, Valmont allows Danceny to fatally wound him. Before he dies, he asks Danceny to visit Tourvel and assure her of his love, and hands him a collection of letters from Merteuil. After hearing Valmont's message from Danceny, Madame de Tourvel dies. Danceny publishes Merteuil's letters, and she is booed and disgraced by the audience at the opera. The film and play alter the novel's original ending, in which Merteuil's face is permanently disfigured due to illness.



Dangerous Liaisons was the first English-language film adaptation of Laclos's novel, and was based on Christopher Hampton's Olivier Award-winning and Tony Award-nominated theatrical adaptation for the Royal Shakespeare Company, directed by Howard Davies and featuring Lindsay Duncan, Alan Rickman and Juliet Stevenson.

The film was shot entirely on location in Francemarker, specifically in the région of Île-de-Francemarker, and featured historical buildings such as the Château de Vincennesmarker in Val-de-Marnemarker, the Château de Champs-sur-Marnemarker, the Château de Guermantesmarker in Seine-et-Marnemarker, the Château du Saussaymarker in Essonnemarker, and the Théâtre Montansiermarker in Versailles.

The original score was written by George Fenton, while the soundtrack included baroque and classical works by Antonio Vivaldi, Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel and Christoph Willibald Gluck.

This was the final film appearance of Academy Award- and Tony Award-nominated actress Mildred Natwick, who played the role of Madame de Rosemonde.

Drew Barrymore auditioned for the role of Cécile, and Sarah Jessica Parker actually turned the role down, before it eventually went to Uma Thurman.


Dangerous Liaisons holds a score of 92% on Rotten Tomatoes, and a score of 74 on Metacritic, indicating a positive critical reception.

Pauline Kael in The New Yorker described it as "heaven – alive in a way that movies rarely are." Hal Hinson in the Washington Post wrote that the film's "wit and immediacy is extraordinarily rare in a period film. Instead of making the action seem far off, the filmmakers put the audience in the room with their characters." Roger Ebert called it "an absorbing and seductive movie." Variety considered it an "incisive study of sex as an arena for manipulative power games." Vincent Canby in the New York Times hailed it as a "kind of lethal drawing-room comedy."

Christopher Hampton received critical acclaim for his screenplay, with Time Out writing that "one of the film's enormous strengths is scriptwriter Christopher Hampton's decision to go back to the novel, and save only the best from his play." James Acheson and Stuart Craig were also praised for their work, with Sheila Benson of the Los Angeles Times stating that "the film's details of costuming (by The Last Emperor's James Acheson) and production design (by Stuart Craig of Gandhi and The Mission) are ravishing." All three would go on to win Academy Awards for their contributions to this film.

Glenn Close received considerable praise for her performance; she was lauded by the New York Times for her "richness and comic delicacy," while Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote that, once she "finally lets loose and gives way to complete animal despair, Close is horrifying." Roger Ebert thought the two lead roles were "played to perfection by Close and Malkovich... their arch dialogues together turn into exhausting conversational games, tennis matches of the soul."

Michelle Pfeiffer was also widely acclaimed for her portrayal, despite playing, in the opinion of the Washington Post, "the least obvious and the most difficult" role. "Nothing is harder to play than virtue, and Pfeiffer is smart enough not to try. Instead, she embodies it." The New York Times called her performance a "happy surprise." Roger Ebert, considering the trajectory of her career, wrote that "in a year that has seen her in varied assignments such as Married to the Mob and Tequila Sunrise, the movie is more evidence of her versatility. She is good when she is innocent and superb when she is guilty." She would later win a British Academy Film Award for her performance.

The casting of John Malkovich proved to be a controversial decision that divided critics. The New York Times, while admitting there was the "shock of seeing him in powdered wigs," concluded that he was "unexpectedly fine. The intelligence and strength of the actor shape the audience's response to him." The Washington Post was similarly impressed with Malkovich's performance: "There's a sublime perversity in Frears' casting, especially that of Malkovich... [he] brings a fascinating dimension to his character that would be missing with a more conventionally handsome leading man." Variety was less impressed, stating that while the "sly actor conveys the character's snaky, premeditated Don Juanism... he lacks the devilish charm and seductiveness one senses Valmont would need to carry off all his conquests."

Awards and nominations

Dangerous Liaisons won three Academy Awards out of seven nominations, for Best Adapted Screenplay (Christopher Hampton), Best Costume Design (James Acheson), and Best Art Direction (Stuart Craig and Gérard James). Its four unsuccessful nominations were for Best Actress (Glenn Close), Best Supporting Actress (Michelle Pfeiffer), Best Original Score (George Fenton), and the Academy Award for Best Picture. Director Stephen Frears and lead actor John Malkovich were not nominated.

Michelle Pfeiffer won the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, and Christopher Hampton won the BAFTA Award for Best Screenplay. The film received a further eight nominations, in the categories of Best Direction (Stephen Frears), Best Actress in a Leading Role (Close), Best Cinematography (Philippe Rousselot), Best Costume Design (Acheson), Best Original Film Score (Fenton), Best Editing (Mick Audsley), Best Make Up Artist (Jean-Luc Russier) and Best Production Design (Craig).

In addition to his Oscar and BAFTA awards, Christopher Hampton also won the London Critics Circle Film Award for Screenwriter of the Year, and the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.

Stephen Frears won the César Award for Best Foreign Film for Dangerous Liaisons.

Philippe Rousselot was nominated for both the American Society of Cinematographers Award and the British Society of Cinematographers Award.

Awarding Body Award Nominee Result
Academy Awards Best Picture nomination
Best Actress Glenn Close nomination
Best Supporting Actress Michelle Pfeiffer nomination
Best Adapted Screenplay Christopher Hampton winner
Best Original Score George Fenton nomination
Best Costume Design James Acheson winner
Best Art Direction Stuart Craig
Gérard James
American Society of Cinematographers Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography Philippe Rousselot nomination
BAFTA Awards Best Direction Stephen Frears nomination
Best Actress in a Leading Role Glenn Close nomination
Best Actress in a Supporting Role Michelle Pfeiffer winner
Best Screenplay Christopher Hampton winner
Best Cinematography Philippe Rousselot nomination
Best Original Film Score George Fenton nomination
Best Costume Design James Acheson nomination
Best Make Up Artist Jean-Luc Russier nomination
Best Editing Mick Audsley nomination
Best Production Design Stuart Craig nomination
British Society of Cinematographers Best Cinematography Philippe Rousselot nomination
César Awards Best Foreign Film Stephen Frears winner
London Critics Circle Screenwriter of the Year Christopher Hampton winner
Writers Guild of America Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium Christopher Hampton winner

Other adaptations


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