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The Last Duel, review: Jodie Comer confirms she is a bona fide film star

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 10/09/2021 Ryan Leston
a young girl standing next to a horse: No more the dutiful wife: Jodie Comer - 20th Century Studios/Patrick Redmond © 20th Century Studios/Patrick Redmond No more the dutiful wife: Jodie Comer - 20th Century Studios/Patrick Redmond

Cert TBC, 152 min. Dir: Ridley Scott. Starring: Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer, Ben Affleck, Harriet Walter

Ridley Scott’s new film, The Last Duel, which premiered at Venice on Friday, is a historical epic that even those usually wary of the genre should enjoy. True, it is very violent, with Scott – upping the stakes from past historical efforts such as Gladiator – repeatedly allowing swords and lances to fall on bodies with crushing, sanguinary force. But this big, long, glowering beast of a movie nevertheless belies its hefty 152-minute run time through strong performances, sheer directorial pizzazz, and also by virtue of having an unimpeachably modern idea at its core, something – who’d have thought it? – to “say”.

It’s based on the book of the same name by Eric Jager (with a screenplay by Nicole Holofcener, Ben Affleck, and Matt Damon), which itself was rooted in real events. The setting is late-14th-century France, and Marguerite de Carrouges makes an outrageous claim: that she has been raped by her husband’s close friend, Jacques Le Gris. Her husband, Jean, responds by challenging Le Gris to trial by combat, in what would turn out to be the last “legal” duel in French history.

The story, then, is superficially simple enough, and yet, a fundamental question underpins it: did Le Gris do it? Scott’s shrewd response to this – echoing, in fact, Akira Kurosawa’s masterly Rashomon (which triumphed at Venice exactly 70 years ago) – is to let it unfold in three “chapters”, each told from a different point of view: that of Jean (Damon), then Le Gris (Adam Driver), and finally, Marguerite (Jodie Comer).

As you might guess, the stories and opinions very largely fail to tally. In his chapter, Jean is a noble, almost world-weary figure, he and Marguerite a cute, lovey-dovey couple. Not so, according to chapter two, in which (in the eyes of Le Gris) Jean is a cold fish, a bit of a fool, doesn’t love his wife, and there is far more between her and Le Gris than her undeserving husband realises.

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The fact that Marguerite’s chapter comes last – that she has the final say – is crucial. This is emphatically her story, a woman attempting to puncture male self-deceit (and perhaps far, far worse) and have her voice heard. It also reinforces the sense of who the film really belongs to.

True, Damon ably contrasts his perhaps over-staid, rather unenjoyable rendering of Jean in his chapter with the more entertainingly useless version in the subsequent chapters; and Driver is typically charismatic throughout. But this is Jodie Comer’s show. As first the dutiful wife, then the adulteress, and finally the woman taking on the huge responsibility of being heard, the Killing Eve star is the glue that holds the whole thing together, and the screen is never more alive than when she is on it.

The result, then, is big-screen entertainment – with a surprisingly subtle score by Harry Gregson-Williams, and Scott going easy on his signature light-through-mist visuals – that should go down well in multiplexes but also belongs unmistakably to the post-Weinstein age. It should also go down as the film that revealed Comer, the 28-year-old from Liverpool, as a genuine movie star.

In UK cinemas from October 15  

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