The Last Duel: the true story that gave birth to Ridley Scott’s event movie

How one of medieval France’s most famous criminal cases inspired The Last Duel, in theaters on October 13.

From its original publication in 2004, The Last Duel has appeared on the Hollywood radar. Not only does its subject immediately fall into the “that would make a good film” category (it was also a defunct section of Première magazine, which imagined a film from a book), but in addition the book looked like a script almost ready to shoot. Eric Jager, professor of medieval literature (as Henry Jones senior) at the University of California – Los Angeles, romance hardly one of the most famous criminal cases of medieval France, although he treats his work as his “first commercial publication”.

In 1386, under the reign of the young and unstable Charles VI, a Norman knight accused a squire of having raped his wife. He claims to settle the case with the help of “God’s judgment”, that is to say, arms in hand, within the framework of a judicial duel of unheard-of brutality, the winner of which will be declared the holder of the truth. This will be the last duel of this type in France (all other duels will be delivered outside the legal framework). The story of the conflict between Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon), his wife Marguerite (Jodie Comer) and Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) is truly fascinating to read (the book is available in pocket at Flammarion editions). Above all, as Eric Jager obviously uses the judicial sources of the time, he writes this tragedy in the manner of these docu-fictions true crimes that captivate the public. Everything is there: a minimum of work is enough to get a correct script from the Last duel. For the same price, Jager even provides a great title.

The Last Duel: how Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Nicole Holofcener shared the script

War, politics, religion, trial: The Last Duel, the book, recounts the lordly ambitions of a fallen warrior who lets himself be consumed by his pride and the rivalry between him and his former friend. Faced with such a rich material, where it would be easy to drown, how to draw a story? It’s all about cutting, as Paul Veyne asserts in his masterful essay How we write history, the historian highlighting the parallels between writing fiction and writing History. What story to extract from the historical material?

By cutting into the mass of documents, The Last Duel stabs at a judicial drama of our time about “male power” and female domination, but it is not a conveniently #MeToo movie (written by Jager in 2004, the book devotes entire pages to rape in the Middle Ages, including marital rape). By taking over from the first directors approached for the film (Martin Scorsese, Francis Lawrence), Ridley Scott does not limit himself to filming a good true story “which would make a good film”. The Ben Affleck / Matt Damon / Nicole Holofcener screenwriters trio didn’t build The Last Duel like a court thriller where the narration follows the trial and its twists and turns, but giving three different points of view on the case (the victim, her husband and the accused) in order to undo the historical narrative from its male prism.

The Last Duel is a new high for Ridley Scott [critique]

And upon arrival, Sir Ridley delves into his themes: the beauty of visual illustration, killers and the societies that accept them, the place of women in the face of male violence. Besides, how many times has Ridley Scott filmed a “true story”? 1492 Christopher Columbus, The fall of the Black Falcon, American Gangster, All the money in the world and now The Last Duel, waiting for House of Gucci… Suffice to say that the true story is not a trend in his filmography. It was never an end in itself. Ridley Scott does not shy away from this story of hatred and violence channeled through law and faith. He does not turn it into a “true story” belonging to a bygone era of feudal barbarians, but a film with still bloody topicality. A film cut with a sword, and the wound is still open.

The Last Duel, starring Adam Driver, Jodie Comer, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, hits theaters October 13. Trailer :

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