Today’s blog post was written by my brother Matthew, about a press screening we went to a few weeks ago…
Just like my sister Catherine, I’ve always wanted to travel back in time. I’m fascinated by history and art, which is why I became a curator. I spent my teenage years obsessed with the 18th Century, spending hours pouring over the music, paintings and beautiful clothes of the era.
However, sometimes this wasn’t enough… sometimes I just wanted to feel as though I was actually in the 18th Century. At times like this I would watch Barry Lyndon.
Stanley Kubrick’s 1975 film is going to be re-released nationwide by the BFI on the 29th July and Catherine and I were lucky enough to see an advance screening at the BFI on London’s Southbank. What would it be like to return to my obsession after many years, and to finally see it on the big screen? I wasn’t disappointed.
The film follows the fortunes of a no-good eighteenth-century anti-hero, Redmond Barry, from rural Ireland to the highest levels of English society. Don’t believe the flashy new trailer for it, this film is a perfectly structured masterpiece. As each scene unfolds we follow Barry through his scrapes with danger, lucky breaks, deceptions, romances, vanities, follies and tragedies. You can’t decide if you’re on his side or not as he does nothing but serve his own self-interest, but you’ll want to follow his story every step of the way.
That’s not why I loved this film when I was a teenager though. Did I mention that this is one of the most beautiful films ever made? Kubrick closely studied the paintings of the era and every shot looks as though it was painted by one of the great artists of the time. It’s as though the paintings of Hogarth, Gainsborough and Zoffany have come alive before your eyes. Kubrick’s attention to detail is extraordinary. He even developed new ways of filming with revolutionary lenses to capture the full beauty of scenes lit just by candles or daylight.
He filmed in real eighteenth-century houses and gardens. It’s so authentic that a curator friend of mine uses the film to illustrate her talks on eighteenth-century dining. If you’ve ever gone to a National Trust house and wondered what life was like in it when it was built, then watch this film. Seeing the film on the big screen, you’ll fall in love with the stunning costumes and be mesmerised by Lady Lyndon’s haunting beauty. You might be sat in the cinema, but you’ll feel as though you’re among the sumptuously dressed aristocrats losing their fortunes at the gambling table, or with the soldiers risking their lives on the battlefield. This is why I’ve always loved it – it’s as close as you’ll ever get to stepping back in time.
Find out more about the release on the BFI website.
Matthew Story is a curator at Historic Royal Palaces, he is an art historian with a specialism in historic art and decorative art.