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INFORMATION AND PHOTOS FROM MIRAMAX FILMS PRESS RELEASE

(Thanks to Susan)


About the Production

THE ADVOCATE, an original courtroom thriller based on unusual case histories of the time, is the story of a Parisian lawyer whose pursuit of a simpler life in the countryside results in clients and cases stranger than anything he's ever encountered. Notes star Colin Firth, "THE ADVOCATE has that sense of the unexpected at every turn. You're never sure whether someone's sinister and evil, or actually rather ordinary and not at all threatening. Or the minute you think something's cozy and reassuring, it turns out to be rather disturbing. You never stop being surprised throughout it."

Writer-director Leslie Megahey was inspired to make THE ADVOCATE when a friend sent him a book, written at the turn of the century and recently republished. It revealed that in the Middle Ages in France and in other parts of Europe, the judicial process did not only apply to human beings. The material in the book was so remarkable that, at first, Megahey thought it was an academic joke.. However, quotes from the original trial transcripts proved the book's legitimacy.

Fascinated by these revelations of such an extraordinary period in history, Megahey wrote a screenplay that was full of intrigue and humor. Although set in medieval times, his story dealt with themes which also have contemporary resonance. THE ADVOCATE conveys a gentle message about the way societies try and impose order at whatever cost to justice.


Leslie Megahey and Colin Firth

Megahey brought his script to producer David Thompson who agreed to give Megahey the opportunity to make his directorial debut, and preproduction began. The casting process required careful thought, and the filmmakers put together a wonderful ensemble case featuring several of Britain's great character actors and several newer faces.

To play the central role, the young lawyer Richard Courtois, Megahey needed an actor who could play a romantic hero, but be compassionate and human at the same time. Courtois is a man who finds himself constantly bewildered by the world into which he has come, and is continually thrown by the people and circumstances surrounding him. COLIN FIRTH was the filmmakers' first choice because, as David Thompson describes, "he has this wonderful self-deprecating quality, a kind of diffidence, which was entirely appropriate for the role yet a great strength and anger when he needs it." Megahey adds "Colin, from the very beginning, seemed to me to have that mixture of conviction and the ability to play the comedy in the script."

Megahey's previous work has been particularly acclaimed for its outstanding visual splendor. It was not surprising, then, that he assembled a creative team with whom he had collaborated many times before in order to achieve the same lavish look for THE ADVOCATE, including lighting cameraman John Hooper, production designer Bruce Macadie and costume designer Anna Buruma.

To capture the necessary period flavor, production designer Bruce Macadie explains that, although there are no specific influences, medieval iconography, architecture and design of the Middle Ages were used as reference material. Macadie says "we were not after the look of medieval art, we were after the medieval way of looking."

Costume designer Anna Buruma explored illuminated French manuscripts for her inspiration.


Colin Firth and Lysette Anthony


The mysterious, medieval world was further achieved by choosing as the main location Perouges, an unspoiled medieval town near Lyon in Southern France, complete with half-timbered buildings and cobbled streets. Megahey describes the town as "charming, but not quaint. It has a sort of coldness which was right for the film, something rather dangerous about it."

Cast and crew felt as if they had stepped back in time as Firth, who stayed in the heart of Perouges during shooting, explains: "Once night falls and they turn the lights out, there's total darkness and total silence which is quite hard to achieve in the 20th century Western world."

At first glance, the town appears to be untouched. A closer look, however, revealed that there have been changes and Macadie and his team had to adapt some buildings to restore them to their medieval splendor. Other locations included the castle in Cley for the Seigneur's chateau exterior, Lamas, Espenel and St. Marcel de Felines.

Back at Ealing Studios after four weeks shooting in France, Macadie and his team built the chateau interiors, which included a banquet room with resplendent frescoes, a minstrel's gallery, narrow cobbled corridors and stairways, and also the courtroom, the inn, prison cell and bathhouse.

A Miramax Films release, THE ADVOCATE is a coproduction between BBC Films and CiBy 200 with the participation of British Screen and the European Co-production Fund.


Colin Firth, Jim Carter and Ian Holm

About the cast

Colin Firth stars as Richard Courtois, an idealistic young Parisian lawyer who comes to Abbeville seeking the quiet rural life and soon finds himself caught up in the religious, political and sexual intrigue of this small town.

Trained at the Drama Centre in London, it was here that Firth's stirring performance as Hamlet led to his first professional engagement in "Another Country" at the Queen's Theatre in 1983. In the same years, he made his debut in "Crown Court", and Marek Kanjevska cast him opposite Rupert Everett in the film version of "Another Country" which was screened in competition in Cannes in 1984.

Following an impressive start to his acting career, Firth has since given many notable performances on television, stage and screen including on television "Tumbledown" (1987), Richard Eyre's moving account of a Falklands survivor, which won Firth a BAFTA nomination; on the stage, opposite Donald Pleasence in the revival of Pinter's "The Caretaker" at the Comedy Theatre in 1991; and in the cinema, the leading roles in Pat O'Connor's "A Month in The Country" (1986), "Apartment Zero" (1988) and as Valmont in Milos Forman's "Valmont" (1989). Other credits include "Lost Empires: (1985) and "Hostages" (1992) for television, and "1919" (1985), "Camille" (1984), "Wings of Fame" (1989) and "Femme Fatale" (1990) for the cinema.

Firth was attracted to Leslie Megahey's script because he found "the world of it utterly unique" and loved "the combination of intelligence and vulgarity." He adds "its got a wonderful, wonderful sense of language, it's real poetry." Despite the fact that his character, Courtois, spends much of the time being completely thrown by the bizarre events taking place around him, he's very much the hero of the story, and Firth comments "Courtois truly takes on everything and interacts with everybody. It gave me an awful lot to go for in terms of the dimensions of the character."


Amina Annabi and Colin Firth


Synopsis

A young Parisian Lawyer, Richard Courtois (Colin Firth), moves from the city to Abbeville, a small medieval town, accompanied by his clerk (Jim Carter), Mathieu. Hehas taken a position as a public defender, as the people's advocate, forsaking both the sophistication and career opportunities of the city to bring the law to the people. What he finds in the village, however, calls into question all of his enlightened learning and morality. He soon finds himself in a very dangerous situation with no allies except a beautiful gypsy girl--an outcast herself.

From the first, Courtois finds that Abbeville is not the idyllic home among simple peasant folk he envisioned. Meeting with Pincheon, the prosecutor of the local Seigneur, the powerful lord of the manor, Courtois is horrified to receive a full docket of cases concerning bestiality, murder, rape and witchcraft. When he clears Jeanine, an accused witch, of criminal charges, only to see her condemned and executed on ecclesiastical law grounds, Courtois learns that the rule of law, to which he is devoted, is often superseded by popular superstition.

He is summoned by the Seigneur (Nicol Williamson), a successful merchant who has purchased his title. Seeing the idealistic and modern-thinking Courtois as a potential challenge to his authority, the lord first tries to hire the advocate of replace Pincheon, and then is determined to fix Courtois up with his daughter (Lysette Anthony). Failing in both these quests, the Seigneur proves firmly to the young lawyer that he will always interfere in court affairs to protect his interests.

Courtois comes to see that the law in Abbeville is used to keep the local people in a continual state of terror and obedience, for the benefit of both the Church and feudal powers. Moreover, Courtois realizes that his presence in Abbeville is proving a dangerous threat to that order. The conflict between Courtois' legal principles and the local authorities comes to a head when he is asked to defend a very unusual client on murder charges--a case which would violate all his scruples and beliefs.

At first Courtois refuses, but when Samira (Amina Annabi), a beautiful gypsy girl, intervenes on the client's behalf, he accepts the case and also becomes involved with Samira. Persecuted as outcasts and unbelievers, the gypsies were powerless in feudal France, and Courtois' actions prove extremely dangerous. He realizes that his new case is linked to a series of deaths and attacks on small children in the community and that the townspeople, out of fear, are hiding the identity of the murderer. When Courtois learns the evil reason why he can never bring the true killer to justice in Abbeville, he decides to return to Paris.

As he departs, a new arrival takes his place at the inn, a knight who will fulfill a dead witch's vow to purge the town of its wickedness.


Background Information

Late medieval France (circa 1400), is the setting for THE ADVOCATE. The film depicts a world on the brink of modernity, but still firmly rooted in the beliefs and culture of the Middle Ages. The twin authorities of the Roman Catholic Church and the feudal lord who controls the land govern Abbeville, the rural village where THE ADVOCATE takes place. But as Courtois learns, Church and State power are shared with and limited by popular culture - the folklore and beliefs of the peasants and servants who made up the vast majority of the population. As a man of high learning and cultivated rationality, Courtois represents values that characterize the coming ages of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, the foundations of modern Europe. THE ADVOCATE traces the fate of an individual of a distinctly modern temperament--rational, individualistic, skeptical and democratic--in a society hostile to such beliefs.

The ensuing conflict lies at the heart of THE ADVOCATE. The domain of legal authority in medieval France was divided between civil and ecclesiastical, or church, law. While civil law--the seigneurial law that governed most of Courtois' cases--addressed crimes of property, injury, and the general realm of persons, places and things, the church law could and did supersede in cases deemed appropriate to religious authority, such as blasphemy and witchcraft. Courtois encounters this double jeopardy when the judge in the Seigneur's court insists on executing a woman for witchcraft under church law, even after he has freed her on similar civil charges.

Medieval law, in general, reflected both elite learning and popular lore and beliefs. It was quite typical, for example, for inanimate objects and natural phenomena to be tried for assault, witchcraft and even murder. Even though some legal thinkers of the time believed that it seemed impossible that such things had the mental capacity to plan or commit crimes, medieval law held that since everything was created by God, everything was subject to His laws. Similarly, those who were outside of God's realm were excluded from any rights or standing in court: this is why Courtois could call rats to testify, but not the Jewish-born surgeon who examined the body of a murdered boy. Courtois' understanding of law as rational, philosophically valid principles continually ran aground on the shoals of popular belief. As legal thought evolved over the 14th century through the 18th centuries, from lore and superstition toward a system of universally applied abstract principles, legal enforcement was a blend of the two. In most places, peasant culture and beliefs, based in local customs, superstition, magic and animism, were as important to judges as legal theory in determining the results of trials and the application of statutes.

The Seigneur, the local landowner, rules Abbeville. The feudal lords had almost total control over their domains. The "court" in which the advocate practices is the Seigneur's, not the states, and Pincheon, who resembles a current-day prosecutor, in fact, works for the Seigneur, who retains his ancient right to preside personally over trials. Yet although his powers derive from ancient feudal traditions, the Seigneur represents the coming modern world as much as Courtois. He is on e of a new class of rulers who gained their power not through war or service to the King, but through commerce: he bought his title.

These men would eventually transform Europe by propelling exploration and imperialism, in search of new trade. Even the secret gathering Courtois witnesses is not a cabal or ceremony of crusading knights, as he imagines, but a gathering of like-minded merchants conspiring to fix prices and production. But the Seigneur's rule requires a stable and docile populace; thus he is committed to absolute enforcement of civil law. Courtois' commitment to skepticism and rationality make him a threat to the Seigneur's power, and thus the lord is continually trying to either win the advocate over to his interests, or destroy him.

Inherent in this society is the unquestioned authority of the Seigneur. He is the center of power in the village, controlling its army and police, owning its land, dispersing its riches. Moreover, he protects the village isolating it from the outside world, and governing access to the surrounding areas. Like most villagers, the townspeople of Abbeville were set in their beliefs, which were grounded in an absolute fear of God and the authority of the Seigneur. This tended to make outsiders immediate targets of suspicion, and the town's treatment of the gypsies, called moors, exemplifies this enmity. But the isolation of the village is belied by the very presence of the gypsies, who originated in Africa. Courtois' fascination for Samira subjects him to popular prejudice and scorn. Since the gypsies were considered outcasts and pagans, Courtois faces very real danger, not simply superstition, if he pursues a relationship with her.

Ultimately, the Church held absolute authority in Abbeville, even over the Seigneur. Powerful figures such as the sheriff are afraid of the priest Albertus. The Catholic Church maintained a rigid and complex code of behavior and beliefs and enforced them with the promise of excommunication. The Inquisition, a systematic attempt by the church to rout out and punish heresy, was omnipresent in daily life, represented in the film by the mysterious and fearful Stranger, who spies for the Church as much on the Seigneur and Albertus as upon the people. Both the Church and the feudal estates enforced their laws absolutely, to maintain total allegiance and obedience from the peasant population.

As long as those laws did not contradict too much with popular lore, the authority of the rulers remained intact. Albertus, Pincheon, and the Seigneur all proclaim to Courtois that they must exercise such absolute authority over the peasants because the simple people cannot bear the responsibility of freedom. Courtois threatened that authority because he questioned its premises and motivations, in the name of the people, and he faced peril because of it. The balance between popular superstition and the authority of Church and State continued in Europe for years to come, but eventually it would break down. Scarcely over a century later, the Reformation would begin the erosion of both religious and civil authority and the rise of democratic thought that has characterized the modern era of human history.

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