Friday, October 24, 2008

Billy Budd

Three decades before he enchanted audiences with his performance as a hormone-popping drag queen in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Terence Stamp made his debut playing a quite different character: Billy Budd. Stamp's rugged good lucks and an undercurrent of working-class brute strength (he was one of the 'angry young men' of the British film industry in the 1960's) made him as instant star in England. He turns in a very nuanced performance in this film adaptation of Herman Melville's tragic story.
Billy Budd is a young, simplistic sailor in the British Navy at the start of the Napoleonic War. The ship's master-at-arms takes an unaccountable dislike to Billy and makes his life a misery, as the crew looks on and even the Captain seems powerless to intervene. When Budd finally strikes back against his tormentor, the Captain is forced to try him for murder. A complicated story with a compelling underlying theme of good vs. evil, and wonderful performances by Robert Ryan as the cruel officer and Peter Ustinov as the helpless Captain all work together to make this a film well worth watching. Ustinov also produced, directed and wrote the screenplay.

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