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Quills (2000)

R  |   |  Biography, Drama  |  25 December 2000 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.4/10 from 43,334 users   Metascore: 70/100
Reviews: 311 user | 131 critic | 31 from Metacritic.com

In a Napoleonic era insane asylum, an inmate, the irrepressible Marquis De Sade, fights a battle of wills against a tyrannically prudish doctor.



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Nominated for 3 Oscars. Another 17 wins & 41 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Madame LeClerc
Jane Menelaus ...
Renee Pelagie
Tony Pritchard ...
Danny Babington ...
George Antoni ...
Dauphin (as George Yiasoumi)


The infamous writer, the Marquis de Sade of 18th Century France, is imprisoned at Charenton Insane Asylum for unmentionable activities. He manages to befriend the young Abbé de Coulmier, who runs the asylum, along with a beautiful laundress named Madeline. Things go terribly wrong when the Abbe finds out that the Marquis' books are being secretly published. The emperor Napoleon contemplates sending Dr. Royer-Collard to oversee the asylum, a man famed for his torturous punishments. It could mean the end of Charenton and possibly the Marquis himself. Written by Emily H and Janette W

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Meet the Marquis de Sade. The pleasure is all his. See more »


Biography | Drama

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for strong sexual content including dialogue, violence and language | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:



Official Sites:


| |



Release Date:

25 December 2000 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Letras prohibidas, la leyenda del Marqués de Sade  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$13,500,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

$249,383 (USA) (24 November 2000)


ESP 65,173,251 (Spain) (29 June 2001)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The works of de Sade read out in the film were actually written by Doug Wright. See more »


When guillotining someone, a wooden piece called a lunette is placed above the neck so the condemned can't move it. No lunette was used in the opening scene. See more »


Royer-Collard: You prefer a book to your husband's company? Well no wonder, I'm only flesh and blood - that's no match for the printed page!
See more »


Au clair de la lune
Written by Jean-Baptiste Lully
See more »

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User Reviews

Geoffrey Rush in a brave, Oscar-worthy performance, and a story an interesting as most anything this year; one of the year's best. ***1/2 (out of four)

QUILLS / (2000) ***1/2 (out of four)

By Blake French:

"To know virtue we must aquatint ourselves with vice."

Marquis de Sade

Philip Kaufman's "Quills" will leave some audiences cheering and others disappointed and disgusted; there are good logical arguments from both sides. One of the most controversial movie of the year, "Quills, " based on the play by Douglas Wright, doesn't entirely examine the torpid mind of the disreputable 18th century French author, the Marquis de Sade, but instead indicates the impact his sexually and sadistically explicit literary work influenced the public. The biggest argument could be made with the sanity of Marquis de Sade himself, as whether he was a perverted, sex-obsessed psychopath or simply a spirited aristocrat who only stood for artistic expression and freedom of speech. The movie's characters take their own sides; after becoming aware of the authors material, Napoleon wants de Sade (Geoffrey Rush) shot dead at the insane asylum he is being held at, but instead a sadistic torturer named Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) is assigned to take charge of the patient; the virginal laundress Madeleine (Kate Winslet) , thinks de Sade is a writer, not a madman, and helps to smuggle his erotic stories out of the institution for public publication; the asylum priest, Adde Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), first befriends de Sade and grants him special privileges, but once he discovers the extremity of his subversive ideas, he reluctantly changes opinions. De Sade inarguably had some fanatical fantasies, but the film leaves it up to us to realize his lustful imagination captured on paper are transpired due to his inability to experience them in the real world outside of his chambers. The subject is carnal and a bit unsettling, and the movie exploits the eroticism clearly on screen; the film is strictly intended for mature audiences. But director Philip Kaufman ("The Right Stuff") does not portray the likes of de Sade in a disturbing manner, but keeps the story engaging. The atmosphere feels accurate and convincing, and the movie is not without humor and the expected material found within the mental institution, like the patient who thinks he is a bird, a pyromaniac, and the hulking horny guy who has his mind set out on raping any human with two legs with no external organs between them. There are a few scenes that could have captured the audience a bit more exclusively. However the entirely convincing, intense, brave, Oscar worthy performances by Michael Caine and Geoffrey Rush make up for that. The Marquis was an extremely complex individual, and Rush captures that through a character without heart or compassion, but with spirit and zest; even though de Sade went through each day with suffering, he still approached life with insight, ambition and curiosity. He is so determined to fulfill his need to write his perverse ideas, after forbidden and when his quills are taken away he still prevails by using blood, wine, and feces in the place of ink, and his clothes, sheets, and walls as paper. De Sade stands as an example that society is most successfully established when people understand that we are all simply expressions of our own nature, that it is most healthy to declare our motives and passions to ourselves. He is also a prime example of self-control, and that freedom of speech only carries us so far. It would be interesting to see what would happen if Marquis de Sade was to live in present times and if he was to exploit his ideas on screen or in novels. I think he would push the envelope to yet another level and have quite an influence on today's society. I hope people who see the artful "Quills" share their opinions with one another, after all, that is the reason why filmmakers make movies like these.

45 of 54 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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