If you are old enough to remember the opening and closing of the UK television series the Tales of the Unexpected, then you will instantly recognize the similarly dark tones of the title sequence of The Duke Of Burgundy. Camper than a row of tents, each episode of the Tales of the Unexpected kicks off with the silhouette of some mysterious gyrating nymph with super-imposed flames flicking about her body in true seventies kitsch. Fans primed themselves for yet another eerie tale, introduced by the leather-faced author himself – the late Roald Dahl. The plots generated a sense of unease culminating in a twist in the end.
The Duke Of Burgundy could well be an episode from the classic television series – or even Hammer House of Horror, albeit better in production quality and more twists and turns than a roller coaster ride. Without a man in sight throughout the entire film, it soon becomes apparent that the beautifully coiffured characters within this film have more sugar and spice than first meets the eye. And no, not all things are nice.
Directed by Peter Strickland, the award-wining director of Berberian Sound Studio and Katalin Varga, the film is based in an unknown Romanian town in an unspecified year. Every day, Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) cycles to Cynthia’s mansion to work as a lowly maid – and every day the cruel and vindictive mistress (Sidse Babett Knudsen) inflicts countless sadistic humiliations upon her. Note the word ‘mistress’. As the days go by and the two women begin to reveal themselves, it soon becomes clear that the humiliation may not be of Cynthia’s design.
The Duke Of Burgundy could best be described as the thinking man’s Fifty Shades Of Grey. Of course, you remember all the hype about the British-American film directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson. Since its release, it would seem that it has generated more articles about sex movies better than its own meagre offering, than it has ticket sales. Whilst Fifty Shades Of Grey, and its flagging franchise, literally beat the eroticism out of an erotic tale, The Duke Of Burgundy spoon-feeds us sensuality, scene by scene.
Stylish and dazzling – this is a clever exploration of human behaviours rather than a paint-by-numbers female S&M tale as it would first appear to be.