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Barry Lyndon (1975) - Plot Summary Poster

(1975)

Plot

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Summaries

  • In the Eighteenth Century, in a small village in Ireland, Redmond Barry is a young farm boy in love with his cousin Nora Brady. When Nora gets engaged to the British Captain John Quin, Barry challenges him to a duel of pistols. He wins and escapes to Dublin but is robbed on the road. Without an alternative, Barry joins the British Army to fight in the Seven Years War. He deserts and is forced to join the Prussian Army where he saves the life of his captain and becomes his protégé and spy of the Irish gambler Chevalier de Balibari. He helps Chevalier and becomes his associate until he decides to marry the wealthy Lady Lyndon. They move to England and Barry, in his obsession of nobility, dissipates her fortune and makes a dangerous and revengeful enemy.

  • The rise and fall of the adult life of Irishman Redmond Barry, who in his later life would be known as Barry Lyndon, from the mid to late eighteenth century, is presented. Growing up in humble means largely due to the early death of his aspiring lawyer father, the potential family breadwinner, Barry strives to live up to the standards of being a gentleman in every respect of the word, including monetarily. He leads a disjointed early adult life in trying to find his way, sometimes being unfairly given some hard knocks as the ways of the world work around him. He seems to find his stride in falling in love with wealthy and married Lady Lyndon, who he ends up marrying following the death of her elderly first husband, Sir Charles Lyndon. In taking over the affairs of the Lyndon mansion, Barry is able to live a means of his liking, all off the Lyndon's now quickly dwindling wealth due to Barry's squandering. As Barry is without money of his own, Mrs. Barry encourages her son to work toward a peerage as a means to have money of his own, as she fears that if Lady Lyndon were to die, she would leave all of what would remain of the Lyndon wealth to her son, Barry's stepson, Lord Bullingdon, with who Barry has always had an antagonistic relationship to the point of Lord Bullingdon wanting revenge on the woes that his stepfather has created in their lives. Outwardly, Lord Bullingdon may seem to be the cause of Barry's fall, however it may be more attributed to Barry being unable to adapt to any of the lives into which he is thrust to truly reach his goal of being a gentleman.

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  • A gentlemanly rogue travels the battlefields and parlors of 18th century Europe determined to make for himself the life of a nobleman through seduction, gambling and dueling in this methodical film showing the rhythm and life of the period.

  • Redmond Barry is a young, roguish Irishman who's determined, in any way, to make a life for himself as a wealthy nobleman. Enlisting in the British Army, fighting in the Seven Years War in Europe, Barry deserts from the British army, joins the Prussian army, gets promoted to the rank of a spy, then becomes pupil to a Chevalier and con artist/gambler. Barry then lies, dupes, duels and seduces his way up the social ladder and enters into a lustful but loveless marriage to a wealthy countess named Lady Lyndon, takes the name of Barry Lyndon, settles in England with wealth and power beyond his wildest dreams, then slowly falls dramatically into ruin.

  • An Irish rogue wins the heart of a rich widow and assumes her dead husband's aristocratic position in 18th-century England.


Spoilers

The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • PART I: By what means Redmond Barry acquired the style and title of Barry Lyndon.

    In the opening scene, set in 1750s Ireland, the father of Irishman Redmond Barry (Ryan O'Neal) is killed in a duel by a businessman over a disputed sale of some horses. This detail is related by the film's narrator (the voice of Michael Horden), who comments ironically on the events that transpire. The widow (Marie Kean), disdaining offers of marriage, devotes herself to the raising of her son.

    While still in his teens, Barry falls in love with his older cousin, Nora Brady (Gay Hamilton). A wealthy English army officer named Captain John Quin (Leonard Rossiter) meets and begins courting Nora, leading the jealous Barry to challenge Quin to a duel. They fire pistols at ten paces and Quin falls. Believing that he has killed Quin and will be arrested by the British for murder, Barry flees.

    On the road to Dublin, Barry is robbed and his horse stolen by a middle-aged highwayman (Arthur O'Sullivan) and the man's son. Penniless, Barry enlists in the British army and finds himself in boot camp. During training, Barry gets into a brawl with a local bully named O'Toole (Pat Roach), and is forced to fight bare-knuckle against the guy. Barry wins the fight by dodging all of O'Toole's blows and knocks out his opponent, which earns him popularity from the rest of his fellow recruits.

    After basic training, Barry and his unit are sent to France to fight in the Seven Years' War (1756-1763) between the alliance of Great Britain and Prussia and the alliance of France, Austria and Russia. While still in a training camp, Barry learns from an old friend, Captain Grogan (Godfrey Quigley), that Captain Quin is not dead after all and has married Nora. The whole duel was a ploy by Nora's relatives to make Barry flee from Ireland so she can marry Quin.

    After the death of Grogan in a skirmish, Barry, fed up with the brutality of war, deserts from the British army. Posing as a British officer, Barry travels through the allied German states along the Rhine, hoping to get to neutral Holland and from there hopefully get back to Ireland. Barry has a brief affair with a local German woman (Diana Koerner) whom he shacks up with while her husband is away at war.

    Later, Barry meets a Prussian officer, Captain Potzdorf (Hardy Kruger), who quickly sees through his disguise. Given the choice of joining the Prussian army or being turned back over to the British where he will no doubt be tried and shot as a deserter, Barry enlists in his second army. After Barry saves Potzdorf's life by dragging him out of a burning house during a battle with French troops, Barry is promoted and receives a special commendation from the Prussian king, Frederick the Great.

    Two years later, after the war ends in 1763, Barry is employed by the Prussian Minister of Police, Potzdorf's uncle. It is arranged for him to become the servant of the Chevalier de Balibari (Patrick Magee), a professional gambler. The Prussians suspect that he is a spy and Barry is assigned to try to determine if he is. However, Barry discovers that the Chevalier is an expatriate Irishman like himself. After an attack of conscience, Barry immediately confesses his mission to the Chevalier and becomes his protege while continuing his charade of spying on him for Potzdor. Barry assists the Chevalier in cheating at card games, but when the Prince of Tübingen (Wolf Kahler) suspects the truth after losing a large sum of money, Potzdorf decides to expel the Chevalier from the country. Barry relays this to the Chevalier who persuades Barry to take advantage of this to flee Prussa. The Chevalier flees from his house during the night and crosses the border. The next day, Barry impersonates the Chevalier by donning his wig and clothes, so when Potzdorf arrives to take him to the border of Prussia and Saxony, Barry rejoins the Chevalier, both free at last.

    Over the next several years, Barry and the Chevalier become successful gamblers as they travel through Europe and gain access to high society. They wander from place to place, cheating the nobles at card games. Barry proves to be very useful; when a loser refuses to pay his debts, Barry's excellent swordsmanship, which he learned during his military service, convinces him otherwise. Seeing that his life of being a drifter and gambler is going nowhere, Barry decides to marry into wealth. Some time later, at a gambling table in Spa, Belgium, he encounters the beautiful and wealthy Countess of Lyndon (Marisa Berenson). After Barry has an argument with Lady Lyndon's aged and terminally sick husband (Frank Middlemass), he suffers a heart attack and dies.

    PART II: Containing an account of the misfortunes and disasters which befell Barry Lyndon.

    The following year (on June 15, 1773), Lady Lyndon and Barry are married and Barry takes her last name of Lyndon and settles in England with wealth at last. The Chevalier is the best man at Barry's wedding and afterwords, he wishes Barry luck with his new life and goes off on his own. Young Lord Bullingdon (Dominic Savage), Lady Lyndon's 10-year-old son by Sir Charles, hates Barry from the beginning, knowing that Barry is an adventurer and "common opportunist" and is not in love with his mother.

    In this second part, Barry undergoes a character transformation from being ambitious, naive and innocent, into a self-destructive and arrogant man who becomes corrupted by his newly acquired wealth and power. The marriage between Barry and Lady Lyndon is not a happy one, although they welcome a new son born the following year, whom they name Bryan Patrick. Barry is unfaithful to her, and expends most of Lady Lyndon's fortune in an effort to ingratiate himself with those who could assist him in his quest to become a peer of the realm while keeping his wife and children in dull seclusion. He eventually comes to his senses and apologizes to her for his treatment of her.

    A few years later, Barry brings his mother over from Ireland to live with him on the estate grounds. After meeting with Lady Lyndon as well as her son Lord Bullingdon (now a teenager played by Leon Vitali), Barry's mother privately warns her son that his position is precarious. If Lady Lyndon were to die, all of her wealth would go to her first-born son Lord Bullingdon; Barry and his son Bryan would be left penniless. Barry's mother advises him to obtain a noble title to protect himself. Following his mother's advice, Barry cultivates the acquaintance of the influential Lord Wendover (André Morell) with this goal in mind, spending much money to grease his way to the top of the social ladder. Barry gains access to more of high society and even once meets with the British king George III at a reception in London. But all this effort is wasted however.

    One day during a lavish birthday party for Lady Lyndon that Barry holds in her honor, Lord Bullingdon crashes the party and announces his hatred of his stepfather. Bullingdon vows to leave his home and never return as long as his mother is married to Redmond Barry whom he continues to badmouth as a "Irish underling". The hot-tempered Barry physically attacks Lord Bullingdon and beats him up in front of all of the important guests which puts a quick end to the party. Humiliated by this public brawl, Bullingdon never the less makes good on his word and leaves the family estate and England itself for parts unknown. However, Barry's public cruelty towards his unruly stepson loses him all the powerful friends he has worked so hard to make and he is shunned socially.

    In contrast to the mistreatment his gave Lord Bullingdon, Barry proves to be a doting and compassionate father to Bryan. Barry now focuses all his attention on raising his son Bryan. Barry cannot refuse the young boy anything and spoils him every chance he gets. Barry even purchases a pony for Bryan to ride despite the fact that the young boy is not a good enough rider. Bryan says that all he wants is a horse (not a pony), so he can go hunting with his father. However, on Bryan's 9th birthday, despite his parents stern orders not to ride his new horse without the company of his parents, the spoiled and rotten boy disobeys them anyway and is thrown while riding from his horse and dies three days later from a head injury.

    The grief-stricken Barry turns to drink and isolates himself even further, while Lady Lyndon seeks solace in religion, assisted by the Reverend Samuel Runt (Murray Melvin), tutor first to Lord Bullingdon and then to Bryan. After a few weeks, Barry's mother dismisses Reverend Runt partly because they no longer need a tutor (mostly because of Barry's past spending habits), partly for what she says is fear that his influence is making Lady Lyndon worse. Plunging even deeper into grief, she attempts suicide by taking poison, but survives and is taken to a nearby clinic to recover. The Reverend and the family's accountant and emissary Graham (Philip Stone) then seek out Lord Bullingdon. Upon hearing of these events, Lord Bullingdon returns to England where he finds Barry drunk in a gentleman's club, mourning the loss of his son rather than being with Lady Lyndon. Bullingdon demands satisfaction for Barry's public assault by challenging him to a duel.

    The duel with pistols is held in a tithe barn. A coin-toss gives Bullingdon the right of first fire, but he nervously misfires his pistol as he prepares to shoot. Barry, reluctant to shoot Bullingdon, magnanimously fires into the ground, but the unmoved Bullingdon refuses to let the duel end, claiming he has not received "satisfaction". In the second round, Bullingdon shoots Barry in his left leg. At a nearby inn, a surgeon informs Barry that the leg will need to be amputated below the knee if he is to survive.

    While Barry is recovering, Bullingdon re-takes control of the Lyndon estate. A few days later, Bullingdon sends his nervous emissary, Graham, to the cottage where Barry is recovering to offer him a deal: Bullingdon will grant Barry a small annuity of 500 guineas for life if he leaves England forever and ends his marriage to Lady Lyndon; otherwise, with his credit and bank accounts exhausted, his creditors will see to it that he is put in jail. Wounded in spirit and body and with no friends left, Barry reluctantly accepts the deal. Barry goes back to Ireland with his mother to recover from his injuries. He is then said to have gone back to the European continent to resume his former profession of gambler, though without his former success. From there, history loses touch with Redmond Barry's life after that. He never sees Lady Lyndon again.

    In the final scene, set another few years later in 1789, a gray and middle-aged Lady Lyndon is going over her finances with Lord Bullingdon and a few other accountants. She then pauses to sign Barry's annuity cheque to be sent to Ireland. Bullingdon looks over at her sorrowful face and comes to realize that she indeed loved Redmond Barry despite his faults. Mother and son say nothing to each other and continue to review their financial papers.

    EPILOGUE: "It was in the reign of George III that the aforesaid personages lived and quarreled; good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor, they are all equal now."

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