From the Director: Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Christopher Hampton wrote the play Les Liaisons Dangereuses, which he adapted from the epistolary novel by Choderlos de Laclos in the mid 70s. It was eventually produced by the RSC in 1985 at The Other Place, Stratford, and was scheduled for just 22 performance with Alan Rickman in the role of ‘Valmont’.
Its surprising commercial success led to a transfer to the West End in 1986, and the following year, he wrote the screen play for the much feted film version ‘Dangerous Liasons’ which came out in 1988.
The novel, set in pre-revolutionary France in the 1780’s, is about French Aristocrats who have so little to do with their lives that they have devised a system of depraving and corrupting those who come into contact with them.
If you read the book you know society can’t go on like this, that it’s hanging on the edge of a cliff.Christopher Hampton
Despite the near 350 year old setting, the writing is very modern, as Hampton felt it was a tale for our times too.
The protagonists, Valmont and Merteuil, are extremely charming, intelligent people, and one feels had society been able to use their talents in the cause of more fruitful and fulfilling activities they could no doubt have done a great deal of good. Today it feels like they mirror the 1% of society who have so much time and money on their hands, they feel they can do what they please with no repercussions.
However we are in pre-revolutionary France and momentous change is just around the corner.
When Choderlos de Laclos wrote the novel in 1782, it caused a huge scandal . It was the ‘50 Shades of Grey’ of the late 18th century and was read by all who could afford to read, including Marie Antoinette and Catherine the Great!
An amateur writer and career soldier, Laclos wanted to “write a work which departed from the ordinary, which made a noise, and which would remain on earth after his death” from this point of view he mostly attained his goals. The novel today is recognised as marking a significant landmark in the development of French literature.
It is also recognised that the prominent popular literature in the 1770s-80s amongst the French aristocracy was largely pornographic. Artists such as Boucher and Fragonard (who produced a series of illustrations for the novel) were engaged in producing salacious boudoir paintings for the market these people created. What follows in history, and now with hindsight, feels inevitable.
There is perhaps a lesson for today?
Les Liaisons Dangereuses