The Devils (1971)

103m (USA – theatrical), 106m 30s (UK – video), 111 mins (UK – theatrical)
35mm film, filmed in Panavision (anamorphic), “Colour by Technicolor”, 2.35:1
mono, English

A British horror film directed by Ken Russell.

Plot Summary

In the 17th century French town of Loudon, a wayward priest, Urbain Grandier has won the hearts of the local populace with his libertarian stance, but angered the clerical establishment with his antics – including the impregnation of the local magistrate's daughter. Elsewhere, the scheming Cardinal Richelieu sees Grandier's misdemeanours as a way to further his political aspirations and, proclaiming Loudon a haven for Huguenots, sets about effecting Grandier's very public downfall. Accusing Grandier of introducing the local to witchcraft and, in the process infecting mother superior Sister Jeanne with a demon, Richelieu dispatches Baron de Laubardemont and a deranged exorcist, Father Barre to deal with the situation.


Directed by: Ken Russell
© MCMLXXI [1971] by Warner Bros. Inc.
Russo Productions Limited. A Robert H. Solo/Ken Russell production. Distributed by Warner Bros.
Produced by: Robert H. Solo and Ken Russell
Associate Producer: Roy Baird
Screenplay by: Ken Russell
Based on the play ‘The Devils' by John Whiting and the book ‘The Devils of Loudon' by Aldous Huxley
Director of Photography: David Watkin
Editor: Michael Bradsell
Music Composed and Conducted by: Peter Maxwell Davies
Sound Recordist: Brian Simmons
Costume Designed by: Shirley Russell
Chief Make-up: Charles Parker
Chief Hairdresser: Ramon Gow
Special Effects: John Richardson
Sets Designed by: Derek Jarman
Art Director: Robert Cartwright
Made at Pinewood Studios, London, England
Locations: Bamburgh Beach, Northumberland, England, UK; Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland, England, UK

Vanessa Redgrave (Sister Jeanne)
Oliver Reed (Urbain Grandier)
Dudley Sutton (Baron De Laubardemont)
Max Adrian (Ibert)
Gemma Jones (Madeleine)
Murray Melvin (Mignon)
Michael Gothard (Father Barre)
Georgina Hale (Philippe)
Brian Murphy (Adam)
Christopher Logue (Cardinal Richelieu)
Graham Armitage (Louis XIII)
John Woodvine (Tricant)
Andrew Faulds (Rangier)
Kenneth Colley (Legrand)
Judith Paris (Sister Judith)
Catherine Willmer (Sister Catherine)
Iza Teller (Sister Iza)

Alternative Titles

Los demonios – Spanish/Venezualan title
The Devils of Loudon
Les Diables
– French title
I diavoli
– Italian title
– Swedish title
Die Teufel
– German title

Production Notes

Early reports suggested that Spike Milligan was up for the part of Father Ambrose, a role that doesn't appear in the finished film. 1Today's Cinema no.9824 (21 July 1970) p.13

Despite, or perhaps because of, a great deal of negative attention from the British press over its language and content, The Devils broke all previous house records when it opened at the Warner Rendezvous cinema in London's Leicester Square. Its opening day take, £1,657, was not only the largest in the cinema's history but also the weekday figure for any film to play there. It went on to achieve the biggest four-day take with £7,656 and proved so popular that the cinema added late night Friday and Saturday screenings to meet demand. 2Today's Cinema no.9926 (27 July 1971) p.1

Shortly after the film opened, Russell appeared on the 22 July 1971 edition of the BBC's 24 Hours and caused outrage by using obscene words during his interview. 3Today's Cinema no.9927 (30 July 1971) p.11 Further controversy followed when the Greater London Council's film censors announced that it wanted to see the film to see if it should be banned from screenings in the capital. A report in Today's Cinema named the YMCA's public relations officer Peter Thompson as a key figure in the campaign to drive the film from the city's screens who in turn suggested that “a leading public figure” had become involved. 4Today's Cinema no.9934 (24 August 1971) pp.1, 7 The adverse publicity did little to staunch the film's popularity with the press and the same publication noted that it had opened to strong box office in Edinburgh and on the Channel Island of Jersey. 5Today's Cinema no.9934 (24 August 1971) p.7

By the beginning of September 1971, the Vatican had gone on the offensive, launching an attack on the film through its official newspaper L'Osservatore Romano. It accused Russell of creating “images and sounds of such obscenity as had never been seen before on the screen, in order to accomplish a crude lynching of the church of yesterday, of today, of all time, as a political instrument of oppression.” It went on to demand the resignation of the director of the Venice Film Festival. 6Today's Cinema no.9936 (3 September 1971) p.1

The attempt by Peter Thompson and his fellow campaigners to have the film removed from screens in Central London failed when but the 13-strong Viewing Sub Committee of the Greater London Council (who were at that time in administrative control of the city) voted by a majority of three not to revoke the BBFC's “X” certificate, powers that all local authorities possessed. Thompson was undeterred by the defeat and vowed to continue to lobby other local authorities not to allow the film to be shown. 7Today's Cinema no.9942 (24 September 1971) pp.1, 11

It was less lucky in Glasgow where local magistrates issued a last minute ban on the film being shown in the city following complaints from the public. With just two days to go before its planned release, magistrates issued the ban – the first time they'd done so to a film that had been certified by the BBFC – on the grounds that it it was likely “to offend against good taste or decency and would be likely to be offensive to public feeling.” One dissenting voice, that of magistrate Bailie Mrs Janie Buchan cautioned that “we have taken a very dangerous step. We have opened the floodgates to all sorts of opportunities for complaints. People can now complain about the morals of Walt Disney.” 8Today's Cinema no.9949 (19 October 1971) pp.2-3

There was further trouble in Scotland when the Dundee Police Committee voted by 5 votes to 3 to ban the film after a single screening following a protest by the Right Reverend William Hart, Roman Catholic Bishop of Dunkeld who said “I felt it was my duty to contact the Lord Provost and inform him the film was not in the interests of the citizens of Dundee.” The bishop was met with some opposition in the form of councillor Baillie Tom Moore who argued that the film should be allowed to continue its curtailed run. 9CinemaTV Today no.9963 (15 January 1972) pp.1, 9

Controversy continued to dog the film throughout the year. In September 1972, the local magistrate at Whitby asked to see the film after a group of local clerics complained that the film “was not fit for the public to see”. He then “directed that it should not be shown in cinemas under their jurisdiction” though the assistant magistrates' clerk admitted that they had seen “only part of the film”. For local screenings the film was replaced by Henry VIII and His Six Wives. 10CinemaTV Today no.10000 (30 September 1972) p.4

There was better news from Southport where the licensing justices upheld their decision to allow the film to be screened despite protests from some local residents. 11CinemaTV Today no.9993 (12 August 1972) p.6

Perhaps the oddest ban the film received in the UK was in Rawtenstall, Lancashire. The film had opened there as it had in many places around the country in June 1972 and despite the presence of protesters, screenings had gone ahead as planned. However, in January 1974, the film had been booked for a four-week run at the Picture House cinema beginning on the 20th and this time the local council were less happy about allowing it to be screened. Having received a written synopsis from cinema owner Ron Brown, a ban was imposed by local magistrates, adding The Devils to a list of film films prohibited from being shown in Rawtenstall, which also included Last Tango in Paris (1972) and A Clockwork Orange (1971). 12CinemaTV Today no.10066 (19 January 1974) p.5


Today's Cinema no.9925 (23 July 1971) p.8
In the dusty jargon of the other day “The Devils” is a Happening that assails the sense and batters at the closed doors that protect the placid conscious mind from the turbulences of the subconscious. Its effect is as physical as it is emotional, and let's not shelter behind discretion and pretend otherwise. No wonder the film has aroused so much anti-reaction amongst people brought up in the tradition that sex and are taboo subjects for polite conversation. […] I sympathise with the conditioned and involuntary responses of distaste and horror that have driven people I like and respect to declare that Ken Russell has gone too far beyond the boundaries of good taste. But I cannot join them at those particular barricades. One man's refinement is another's genteel euphemism and, in the historical context of the events in Loudon, good taste would have been the nosegay with which one enabled the rich to ignore the stench of poverty and disease. The accusation of blasphemy is less understandable. God is not mocked, only the evil deeds of men taking His name in vain. […] [I]f you still think that Russell's view of the past is too much to take, wait until you have seen “Gimme Shelter” (the documentary of the Rolling Stones concert tour, which I shall be reviewing next week) and then ponder.” – from a review by Marjorie Bilbow


Cinéma no.161 (December 1971) p.118-124 – interview, review
CinemaTV Today no.10000 (30 September 1972) p.4 – note (Devils' exorcised)
CinemaTV Today no.9963 (15 January 1972) pp.1, 9 – note (Dundee bans The Devils)
CinemaTV Today no.9982 (27 May 1972) p.8 – review
CinemaTV Today no.9993 (12 August 1972) p.6 – note (Devils ‘yes)
CinemaTV Today
no.10066 (19 January 1974) p.5 – note (New ban on Russell)
November 1997 p.144 – review
vol.14 no.14 (1971) p.338 – reprinted reviews
Films and Filming
vol.17 no.12 (September 1971) p.49 – review
Films Illustrated
vol.5 no.53 (January 1976) p.191 – review
The Hollywood Reporter
vol.217 no.1 (9 July 1971) p.3 – credits, review
Image et Son
no.255 (December 1971) p.109-119 – article
Journal of Media Law and Practice
vol.9 no.3 (September 1988) p.121 – article
Kine Weekly no.3280 (22 August 1970) p.12 – note
Kine Weekly
no.3283 (12 September 1970) p.12 – note
Kine Weekly
no.3328 (24 July 1971) p.11 – review
Monthly Film Bulletin
vol.38 no.451 (August 1971) p.161-162 – credits, synopsis, review
Movie Maker
vol.5 no.10 (October 1971) p.650-651 – article
(April 1971) p.18-19 – review
vol.4 no.3 (April 1996) p.64-68 – illustrated article (Habit Forming by Ed Sikov)
Radio Times
vol.285 no.3723 (27 May 1995) p.46 – short article (Films by Barry Norman)
Radio Times
vol.299 no.3897 (17 October 1998) p.63 – illustrated review
Rivista del Cinematografo
no.8/9 (August/September 1971) p.390 – review
Shivers no.56
(August 1998) pp.30-33 – illustrated article
Sight & Sound
vol.7 no.10 (October 1997) p.69 – illustrated article (Private view: three cuts and you're out by Ken Russell)
Sight & Sound
vol.12 no.12.(December 2002) pp.28-31 – illustrated article (Raising hell by Mark Kermode)
Today's Cinema
no.9832 (18 August 1970) – credits
Today's Cinema
no.9923 (16 July 1971) p.11 – note (Trade shows)
Today's Cinema
no.9925 (23 July 1971) p.8 – review (by Marjorie Bilbow)
Today's Cinema
no.9926 (27 July 1971) p.1 – note (They all went to ‘The Devils)
Today's Cinema
no.9927 (30 July 1971) p.11 – letters (Ken Russell and that four-letter word from E.O. Parker, Devon & Cornwall Branch, CEA and Euan Lloyd of EMI-MGM Studios, Elstree)
Today's Cinema
no.9930 (10 August 1971) p.7 – letter (The sad sight of Ken Russell by Herbert Wilcox)
Today's Cinema
no.9931 (13 August 1971) p.11 – note (Devils' at Venice)
Today's Cinema no.9934 (24 August 1971) pp.1,7; 7 – notes (They want ‘Devils' exorcised); (Plenty who want to see those Devils)
Today's Cinema
no.9936 (3 September 1971) p.1 – note (Vatican attacks The Devils)
Today's Cinema
no.9942 (24 September 1971) pp.1, 11 – article (Campaign to kill ‘Devils' collapses by Tim Ewbank)
Today's Cinema
no.9949 (19 October 1971) pp.2-3 – note (Glasgow's last-minute ban on The Devils)
14 July 1971 p.16 – credits, review
Video Watchdog
no.35 pp.37-56 – illustrated article

A British Picture: An Autobiography by Ken Russell – notes
The Films of Oliver Reed by Susan D. Cowie and Tom Johnson pp.130-136 – illustrated credits, synopsis, review
Hoffman's Guide to SF, Horror and Fantasy Movies 1991-1992 p.103 – credits, review
“It's Only a Movie, Ingrid”: Encounters On and Off Screen p.107 – article (by Alexander Walker)
Ken Russell by Thomas Atkins – article
Ken Russell's Films by Ken Hanke – article
Reed All About Me: The Autobiography of Oliver Reed – by Oliver Reed pp.133-138, 157, 209 – notes
by Walt Lee p.98 – credits
What Fresh Lunacy Is This? The Authorized Biography of Oliver Reed
– by Robert Sellers pp.40-41, 181-190, 400; 483 – notes; credits

Other sources
BFI Southbank Guide March 2012 p.9 – illustrated listing
British National Film Catalogue vol.15 (1977) – credits
Sex, Shocks and Sadism by Todd Tjersland p.24 – review