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Quills (2000)

R  |   |  Biography, Drama  |  25 December 2000 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.4/10 from 43,341 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


There are no bad words... only bad deeds. 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:


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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?


Geoffrey Rush directed the play that the asylum residents put on. See more »


When Simone is buying her copy of "Justine", the date visible on the cover is MDCCCCVII: 1907. There is one C too many. See more »


The Marquis de Sade: My glorious prose filtered through the minds of the insane. Who knows, they might improve it.
See more »


References The Bad Seed (1956) See more »


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

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User Reviews

The first rule of politics: The man who orders the execution NEVER DROPS THE BLADE.
17 December 2004 | by (Luoyang, China) – See all my reviews

Quills is the modernized story of the Marquis de Sade, whose steamy writings whipped France into a sexual fury in the late 18th Century. And by modernized I mean that it has been told through the experiences of a lot of French people who speak English and with British accents. But no matter, I'm willing to accept that everyone in France in 1800 spoke perfect British even if only because of Geoffrey Rush's brilliant performance. With every movie that he comes out with I become more and more convinced that there is nothing he can't do.

In order to know virtue, as the Marquis explains, one must first understand vice. In Philip Kaufman's Quills, the focus is on the Marquis de Sade after his writing has taken him beyond the artistic freedom generally accepted in the 18th and 19th centuries, even to elite aristocracy like himself. It is a detailed exploration of the events that led from him being a social elitist to living almost three decades in prison, writing things that caused his keepers to make it so difficult for him to write that he ultimately uses his own blood and excrement for ink, and his clothing, the walls of his cell, and his own skin as parchment.

Luckily for the Marquis, at first anyway, is that there is something of an understanding priest in the Abbe du Coulmier, another wonderful performance from Joaquin Phoenix. An intensely religious man, Coulmier believes that the Marquis should be allowed to write, if only to purge himself of the sadism with which his head is filled and which would later be named after him.

Kate Winslet plays Madeleine, a laundry maid who smuggles the Marquis' writing out of the asylum so that it can be published, for which many people are not happy, but many others are. The Marquis dips into the extensive world of the forbidden sexual taboos of the 18th and 19th centuries, writing extensively about them without a care in the world for propriety. One may wonder to what extent the Marquis' writings were such a hit because they were forbidden, or because of their lewd content, which may euphemistically be described as guilty pleasures for the masses. Indeed, Larry Flynt was not working, so graphic pornography was something of a rarity.

There is a curious relationship between the Marquis and a physician named Royer-Collard, played by Michael Caine, who is assigned to law down the law with the Marquis and prevent him from writing anymore. The glee with which the Marquis mocks and taunts him are some of the best parts of this outstanding film. There is a great parallel between the two characters, as well. Royer-Collard pretends to be a moral role model, at the same time taking a wife who is young enough to be his daughter, possibly even his granddaughter, and treats the Marquis with exactly the same sadistic (if I can again use the term for the behavior for which the Marquis would later be named) behavior that he condemns that Marquis for writing about. Both men engage in many of the same practices, it's just that the Marquis makes no attempt and has no interest in hiding his interests in the pleasures of the flesh.

I think that the most important thing to remember about this movie is that it is able to deal with a person who's beliefs are, I like to think, below the moral compasses of most of the people who will watch the movie, but it's not about what he was writing, it's about the fact that he was writing at all. It's about his defiance in the face of a corrupt moral authority, his insistence on maintaining an artistic expression that was not well received but that was certainly therapeutic to him. Sure, his sanity is in question, to say the least, but as they say, genius is often associated with madness.

What a great coincidence, too, because so is Geoffrey Rush.

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