A psychiatrist, Martin Dysart, investigates the savage blinding of six horses with a metal spike in a stable in Hampshire, England. The atrocity was committed by an unassuming seventeen-year-old stable boy named Alan Strang, the only son of an opinionated but inwardly-timid father and a genteel, religious mother. As Dysart exposes the truths behind the boy's demons, he finds himself face-to-face with his own.
Richard Burton ... Martin Dysart
Peter Firth ... Alan Strang
Colin Blakely ... Frank Strang
Joan Plowright ... Dora Strang
Harry Andrews ... Harry Dalton
Eileen Atkins ... Hesther Saloman
Jenny Agutter ... Jill Mason
Kate Reid ... Margaret Dysart
John Wyman ... Horseman
Elva Mai Hoover ... Miss Raintree
Ken James ... Mr. Pearce
Patrick Brymer ... Hospital Patient
A rare and masterful adaptation of a piercing psychological stage drama. An emotionally unstable young man trying to come to terms with his love and erotic attraction as well as religious like worship of horses. Absolutely gripping!
I remember when I saw this on stage, reading in the program, that the writer Peter Schafer was traveling through the English countryside when he happened to come across a local news story of a young man who had blinded 6 horses at a nearby stable. Hence the basis for this story. So in a way it's a true one, with the details behind the event being Schafer's invention. Something in itself quite remarkable. It's hard to image someone taking that bit of information and fabricating anything more probing or riveting than this. This work takes full advantage of the possibilities of the screen yet retains the intimate feel of a play. Especially effective are Richard Burton's monologues directed to the viewer with enough food for thought to last through many a viewing. Also thought provoking are his conversations with a female colleague about his experience with this emotionally disturbed young man. The way nudity is handled in this film is also a rare pleasure. Unashamedly presented in all it's natural beauty, both male and female. Most films seem to act like male nudity is just too shocking for us to handle.
It's curious to me that a number of reviews that I've read by professional critic's seem to have been made too uncomfortable with the depth and intensity of this film to give it the top rating that it deserves. Few films have dared be this bold, yet simple in it's natural telling of a highly unusual act of violence by a young man emotionally out of control and all the darkness that lie beneath.
Also interesting is a story such as this where the therapy and healing taking place seems to be shared equally by patient and doctor. No other film has played that angle with the understanding of Equus.
It's a shame this film is so under appreciated. It should easily be in the top 250 and quite possibly the top 100 of all time. The fact it has only 233 votes at Imdb is evidence of it's undeserved obscurity.
Rent this when your ready for something profound and unforgettable.
I don't know what's the deal with the stage-play, I never saw it, but a film is a film and a play is a play. It's quite normal to me that the two of them should not be compared. Anyway. On the film. I have seen some of Lummet's great overall work both newer and older (Network, Serpico, Night Falls over Manhattan, Critical care, The hill a.o.) and I must say I liked them all. Lummet is one of the greatest and underrated directors of all time. Why? He extracts awesome acting from his actors and he's got a choice for stories.
Equus, is my best Lummet film I have seen so far - I always had a tendency to take interest on and see subtext in extreme, weird, negative situations on film. You have much to take from negative stuff, if they're handled properly. Here, there are so much stated for the viewer to think. Questions on the point of psychotherapy, on the nature of perversion (and its possible causes), importance of religion combined with lack of knowledge, isolation, lust for life and so much more I don't want to refer to here.
Beware! The film features strong material - both visuals and texts - this is no easy film for Hollywood audience. But its not uneasy in a way that it's slow, or 'arty' or anything. Far from that, it's original, deeply involving, with gripping atmosphere... Its subject matter though, might force the more coward or less open-minded viewers to trash it or mock it, for fear of what it could unleash or because they simply couldn't understand it. But intelligent film lovers, take a little tolerance and SEE this. It is worth the search. This is film is a masterpiece of film-making!
One of the most intriguing comments I've heard about this film is that it pales in comparison to the stage production. On the one hand, this is true in that the film loses much of the inventive staging that was inherent in the play (e.g., convention of having the "horses" played by actors in black with horsehead headdresses, the tight focus of the action within a small perimeter). The problem, however, isn't so much Sidney Lumet's concept of the film as it is the limitations of the medium itself -- devices which are striking on stage simply don't work on film. Indeed, those directors who have tried to make such conventions work usually end up shortchanging the material.
And it is here where Lumet's genius comes in. If there is one thing that Lumet has a feel for, it is the gritty, down-to-earth feel of everyday life. While this usually means New York life, he does a marvelous job in this film of capturing the drab sterility of Dysart's world, as well as that of the Strang home. When these are compared to the vivid, almost ethereal shots of Alan in the stables or with the horses on the field (also, compare the striking image of horse and rider on the beach with the remainder of the beachgoers), we can fully understand Dysart's frustration about "looking at pages of centaurs trampling the soil of Argos" while Alan "is trying to become one in a Hampshire field". Alan has found a way to completely escape the drabness of his world, while Dysart has become sterile trying to find ways not remind himself of it. Similarly, the tight perimeter of the stage play has been replaced by tight focused shots which, more often than not, achieve the same result through a claustrophobic effect.
Likewise, the absence of theatrical staging does nothing to dampen the power of Shaffer's text, which remains as potent as ever. Indeed, what's often overlooked about this play is that, while the visual images of the staging are striking, they are, in most instances, completely detached from the central thrust of the text, both as a mystery and as a commentary on the consequences of society's demand for "normality" at any cost.
In this regard, the performances are outstanding. Richard Burton gives one of his last great performances as Dysart, showing us the literally crumbling facade of the doctor's spirit, while at the same time giving us a complete character (contrast his cynicism throughout with the moments of tenderness, such as those shown to Alan's mother and to Alan himself after the final session). Likewise, Peter Firth presents us with a cipher, wrapped up in television jingles, who is revealed to us piece by piece through moments of vulnerability until we see in full force what has made his character commit these horrible crimes. The rest of the cast -- notably Joan Plowright, Colin Blakely and Jenny Agutter -- do wonders with the limited dialogue they have to work with.
Put simply, Equus is an astonishing film to watch, provided that you're ready to watch it as a film, rather than as a filmed stage play. For those who hold to the notion that only the stage devices can make this play work, I'd advise them not to watch any film adapted from a play, as they'll almost certainly be disappointed every time.
* Peter Firth, who had played 17-year-old Alan Strang on the London stage from July 1973 and on Broadway from September 1974, was actually nearly 23 when the movie version was filmed in September 1976.
* Richard Burton reportedly rejected the initial choice for the role of Alan Strang, telling the producers the actor was too tall. He insisted Peter Firth, who had starred in the play with him at the Plymouth Theater on Broadway in April 1976, should be cast as Firth was about the same height as him.
* The producers did not initially want Richard Burton to play Martin Dysart, due to his reputation for alcoholism and overacting. Media reports indicated Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson were interested in the part. Burton was forced to make Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) before they would relent.
* Dora Strang's tea service is called Memory Lane by Royal Albert Bone China.
* Legendary second unit director Yakima Canutt received a final screen credit, as a consultant on the stunts.
* Joan Plowright was unable to accompany her husband, Sir Laurence Olivier, to the Royal opening of the National Theatre of Great Britain on 25 October 1976 because she was in Canada filming this movie.
* Filmed in Canada for tax reasons.
* Richard Burton had hoped the success of this film would lead to a major comeback in his career, but instead he only received offers for minor films and was never again a big star at the box office.
* Playwright Sir Peter Shaffer, who was watching off camera, was horrified by the way Sidney Lumet directed the final scene in the stables, claiming he had made it like the shower scene in Psycho (1960).
* Richard Burton, who was suffering from back pain and pinched nerves, recorded his eight monologues in one day.