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Wednesday April 17th 2024

The Devils| 1971

The Devils film location: Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland
The Devils film location: the walls of the city of 'Loudun': Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland | Photograph: wikipedia / Michael Hanselmann

The dark, scabrous humour of Ken Russell's filming of John Whiting's play, based in turn on Aldous Huxley's book The Devils Of Loudun, was much misunderstood on release but The Devils has since gone on to be recognised as Russell's masterpiece and the truly great film it is.

The walled French city of Loudun was built from terrific designs, from filmmaker-to-be Derek Jarman, on the Pinewood Studios backlot.

The city exterior, seen behind rotting corpses in the opening scenes, is Bamburgh Castle, 16 miles north of Alnwick on the northeast English coast in Northumberland.

Bamburgh, perched dramatically, and photogenically, atop a dolerite coastal outcrop, was originally a native British fort. A newer castle, built by the Normans, forms the core of the present Bamburgh, which inevitably became the property of the reigning monarch (its keep was supposedly built for Henry II).

The castle has seen its share of action and had seriously deteriorated until the 18th and 19th Centuries, restoration was begun by various owners, eventually being bought by a Victorian industrialist called William Armstrong. The castle still belongs to his family, but is open to the public.

Bamburgh is also seen, as 'Dunsinane', in Roman Polanski's 1971 film of Macbeth, in the 2015 version of Macbeth with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, as the 'Palace of Holyrood' in 1971 historical drama Mary, Queen Of Scots and in the 1964 costume drama Becket, with Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton.

Away from the decadent hysteria of the corrupt church, worldly priest Grandier (Oliver Reed) and his mistress Madeleine (Gemma Jones) celebrate their spiritual union against the glorious backdrop of Russell's beloved Lake District.