Wednesday, 30 January 2013


I’m not quite sure why I have never got round to watching Peter Shaffer’s Equus before – well, in fact, it’s the film version I’ve seen, but the screenplay is by Shaffer. I suppose I was repelled by the idea of a story based upon a boy blinding horses. But although I find the act deeply repugnant, overall I’m glad I watched the film.

It’s a mainstream piece of writing, but really it borrows aspects of the crime novel, not just in the criminal subject matter, but also in terms of the detective work done by the psychiatrist, played by Richard Burton, who tries to understand the forces that drove the boy, played by Peter Firth, to act as cruelly as he did.

Peter Shaffer, with his equally gifted twin brother Antony, collaborated on a short-lived series of detective novels published in the 50s but very much in the Golden Age tradition before moving on to darker and less plot-orientated material. Those books are still enjoyable light reads, by the way.

I found the film compelling, and a reminder of what a good director the late Sidney Lumet was. A word of warning – the violence is graphic, and there is full frontal nudity. Mind you, since the nudity features both Peter Firth and Jenny Agutter, two exceptionally good-looking actors, this might just attract some viewers. The sex and violence is not gratuitous, though. It’s a serious film about a deeply serious subject.

I thought Burton’s performance superb, even though I’d have liked more insight into his character’s personal demons. The parents of the boy are also splendidly played by Joan Plowright and the utterly brilliant Colin Blakely, who died far too young.


seana graham said...

I saw this play not once but twice on stage when I was still a freshman in college. I'm still amazed that I happened to see it the second time in L.A., played by the great Anthony Hopkins.

The nudity in the play was a problem the other version, but only because I happened to be seeing it with my roommates parents...

Kristopher said...

I keep meaning to watch this movie at some point.

I saw the recent revival on Broadway with Richard Griffiths, Daniel Radcliffe and Anna Camp.

Stunning cast and excellent production.

I will have to add the movie to my Netflix queue.

J F Norris said...

So much more effective and powerful on stage than the movie version. The way the horses were portrayed by men with masks - so theatrical and visually metaphorical. I've always been haunted by this play. A lot of people I know can't stand it and call it artificial. But ALL theater is artificial in some way or another. That kind of criticism baffles me.

I think EQUUS inspired a slew of psychiatrist-as-detective plays. AGNES OF GOD (which explores a possible virgin birth by a nun) is the most closely related and the most well known.