Sexual Reeling

Philip Kaufman's Quills is a harsh, lush lecture on sensuality and censorship

The strength of the project emerges from its exceptional cast and impeccable design. Phoenix is the surprise star of the piece, adding yet another role to his impressive résumé. Although Rush commands attention with all his strutting and fretting, his resentful, pound-of-flesh antics pale in comparison to the intimate scenes he shares with the hungry yet restrained Winslet and even more with his real-life wife, Jane Menelaus, as the marquis' estranged spouse. Caine is a perfect villain (too perfect, in fact), yet all his attempts to woo his young charge with Peruvian marble, ceiling beams from Provence, and a trompe l'oeil over the ballroom do not explain why the girl does not even flinch when he attacks. Even this glaring improbability is nearly swallowed up by the sumptuous production design by Martin Childs (Shakespeare in Love), who provides the stage for this battle of vice and virtue. In sum Quills is bound to titillate 'em in the Bible Belt, but elsewhere it's likely to summon little more than a few Oscars and appreciative yawns.

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