In The Last Duel, directed by Ridley Scott (Alien, Gladiator), one thinks to know exactly what is coming. Medieval accoutrements, gray skies, and a director well known for masculine period vibes; however, this is not the tale of valor that it first appears. The screenplay is co-written by Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Nicole Holofcener and is told in three chapters, from three perspectives with a #MeToo feminist twist. Damon (Good Will Hunting, The Bourne Identity) and Affleck (Good Will Hunting, Gone Girl) also star in the film as knight Jean de Carrouges and louche Count Pierre D’Alençon respectively.
The first perspective, which belongs to Jean de Carrouges (Damon), might have once been the sole version of “The Last Duel.” In 14th-century France, de Carrouges is a loyal and valiant soldier for King Charles VI, who weds a nobleman’s daughter, Marguerite (Jodie Comer). He finds his agreed-upon dowry, including a handsome parcel of Normandy, has instead been taken as a debt collection by the Count Pierre d’Alençon (Affleck). He in turn awards the land to de Carrouges’s friend and fellow warrior Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver), infuriating de Carrouges. This starts a rift between the two, as well as with the count, who strongly favors Le Gris. Later, when de Carrouges returns from a trip, his wife informs him that she was raped by Le Gris while he was away. De Carrouges vows to bring Le Gris to justice.
The second perspective replays the same time period piece, except seen through the eyes of Le Gris. Here, de Carrouges is an impulsive soldier and a compulsive complainer. He goes on about honor while Le Gris and the count drink copiously and bed many women. Le Gris truly believes his act with Marguerite was about being bold and vigorous in love, but it is most certainly not the consensual act he tells himself is true.
The third perspective is a completely new twist on the Middle Ages as well as a bold look at female empowerment when the story is told through Comer’s portrayal of Marguerite. The perspective shares Marguerite’s experience as being wed in a business transaction, the pressure to birth an heir, and her savvy administration of the castle while de Carrouges is away. Marguerite shows the only true account of events and persons, including her rape from Le Gris; also disturbing is her mother-in-law, Nicole de Carrouges’s (Harriet Walter) judgement and complacency in such circumstances of women of the time.
This film is a clever, albeit at-times campy, telling of both period and modern roles for women and men and how though times may have changed, perspectives may not. A worthwhile film for anyone who appreciates a new perspective on a familiar story and can stomach a bit of brut and assault, for the sake of a strong sense of honor.