Stanley Kubrick’s exquisitely detailed adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel about the picaresque exploits of an 18th century Irish adventurer.
“What a magnificent, mesmeric slow dance it is, not merely of death but of an ambitious man’s inexorable decline.”
Wally Hammond, Time Out, 2009
Following the collapse of his long-gestating Napoleon project, Stanley Kubrick turned to this lesser-known novel by the author of Vanity Fair, set at the time of the Seven Years War. Famed for his perfectionism, Kubrick went to extraordinary lengths to research and recreate the look of the period, taking inspiration from the era’s great visual stylists, painters such as Thomas Gainsborough and William Hogarth.
Determined to film by natural or historically accurate light sources, Kubrick and his cinematographer John Alcott acquired super-fast lenses to capture scenes lit only by candles. The pristine, painterly look of the finished film was decried by some critics, who found the amoral escapades of the title character (Ryan O’Neal) emotionally uninvolving. Barry Lyndon’s reputation has soared in the years since.
An earlier Thackeray adaptation also occasioned experimentation in cinematography, when Rouben Mamoulian’s Becky Sharp (1935) became the first feature to be shot in three-colour Technicolor.