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Film facts Plot summary
General comments Comments by Colin
Comments about Colin Trivia
Reviews of  The Advocate Favorite Quotes
Medieval Theme Ratings
Web links Back to Main Roles page
Credits Soon: COLIN SPEAKS! - sound files from The Advocate

NEW!Pictures & Text From The Miramax Press Release



 
 

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FILM FACTS

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PLOT SUMMARY

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The tone of this haunting, medieval film is revealed in the opening minutes, when a man and his she-ass stand together, ready to be hung for sexual crimes. Townsfolk erupt with joy when a messenger rushes in at the last moment with a pardon - for the she-ass.  Such is the upside-down, medieval world of Abbeville, France in 1450, when laws applied to men and animals alike. A quote from Father Albertus encapsulates this absurd world: "In a world where nothing is reasonable, in the end, nothing can be truly mad."

Colin Firth's character, Richard Courtois is a dedicated and upstanding lawyer who leaves Paris searching for a simple life in the country. What he finds is superstition, corruption, and a mysterious murder - presumably committed by a pig. Courtois wants nothing to do with being legal counsel for a pig, however the local powers of Abbeville seem strangely eager for him to represent the porker and bring an expedient end to the murder case.

The story unfolds as Courtois is encouraged to defend the pig by a series of people and events:  The local magistrate reminds him that the pig needs defense and the state pays his fee. Father Albertus, the local freethinking priest who befriends Courtois, suggests that the time might be right to accept the defense in order to bring a swift end to further speculation about the murder. The local Seigneur seems indifferent to Courtois' struggle with conscience and tells him “there are things a country lawyer just has to do.”  Samira, a gypsy and Courtois’ love interest, wants him to defend the pig because it provides food and money for her and her family. Meanwhile Courtois struggles in vain to maintain his image of an idyllic country life, as he slowly discovers there have been other murders and the peaceful community he dreamed of is filled with fear and corruption.



 
 

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GENERAL COMMENTS

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About Colin's Character:

Colin's character - Richard Courtois, an advocate at law - is the central character in this medieval murder mystery/comedy set in the small town of Abbeville.  The whole story is seen through his eyes and told from his point of view.  At first very innocent and naive, he soon finds that the country and its folks not so simple and backward as he had thought and that the laws and customs not the same as the ones in Paris.  Through much of the middle of the film, he appears bewildered by not being privy to some knowledge that everyone else seems to have and he begins to see that his plans for a new life are not working out.  Everything seems to start to crumble around him - both figuratively and literally.  However, he remains upright and moral although surrounded by indifference and corruption.  And finally, it is he who discovers the town's dark secrets.

Through the series of events in the movie, Colin's character grows from a naive young man to one who is wiser and educated in the ways of the world.  This change is a slow, unfolding process rather than a quick, blinding experience.  He has not lost his moral character and his desire to serve the less fortunate members of society.

Colin's comedic talents are showcased in the many courtroom scenes where he engages in clever courtroom maneuvering, against the prosecutor, Pincheon (Donald Pleasance).  As part of some delaying tactics, he even calls rats to testify.  He plays the bewildered part of the role engagingly and convincingly - and followers of Colin's career will see echoes in other of Colin's portrayals.

Colin is the leading man in this movie and the "hero."  As usual for Colin, he manages to make the role sympathetic despite any weaknesses and absurdities in the character.

The Advocate shows a more mature Colin relative to, what he described as "callow youth", films in his past.  His role in The Advocate was representative of later films in which he portrays men of innocence, who are bewildered and enraged by surrounding circumstances.  I found these character similarities true of Brian Smith in Wings of Fame (1989) and Joseph Prince in Femme Fatale (1991).  These character traits were well displayed in his interpretation of Richard Courtois.

Courtois is based on an actual historical figure Bartholomew Chassenee who actually did defend animals in court.  He became one of the greatest human criminal lawyers of his century.

As far as looks, Colin gets to wear a variety of medieval headgear which is unflattering to most everyone in the film but him, as well as slimming medieval leather "breeches."  He again shows that he can play period roles convincingly - no matter what century or what apparel that entails.

Note that the film has some of the most explicit sex scenes in any of Colin's films - particularly if you see the uncut version released in Europe, but not in the United States (see below)

About the Film:

This film is a rich character study as well as a view of a court system tarnished by superstition and flawed by interaction with the church.  Look for other outstanding performances from the cast of famous British actors: Donald Pleasence as Pinchon, the prosecuting attorney weary from disillusionment, but determined to seek his own wisdom amidst the madness, as he attempts to follow the law regardless of its imperfections. Ian Holm as Father Albertus, Abbeville’s well educated priest whose personal actions and beliefs are very different from those he publicly expresses. Nicol Williamson as the landed Seigneur Jehan d’Auferre, who believes money and power are the only significant things in life. And Jim Carter as Mathieu, Courtois’ cynical clerk who sees the truth of Abbeville long before his employer.

The cinematography is excellent and the musical score is very evocative of the Medieval setting.

The film combines superior acting along with an intriguing and unusual plot.  It creates a unique world that mixes knowledge of ways of the world with moral uprightness, superstition with disbelief, corruption and belief in the possibility of creating a better world, relationships based on bawdy sex as well as ones arising from true love - in short a world of contradictions and absurdities.



 
 

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COMMENTS BY COLIN

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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."

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."

"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."

Go to Jane's Firth articles page
for the full-length versions of articles from which quotes are taken.
 
 

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COMMENTS ABOUT COLIN

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 Miramax Press Release:
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 need 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."
Chicago Tribune, 4 September 1994: (excerpt)
"Colin is terribly good at being the strong leading man, but he's also very funny when he's wrong-footed."
Los Angeles Times, 24 August 1994: (excerpt)
"The actors do their best to keep their faces uncracked, but Williamson has a high old time acting parched and smarmy, Pleasence is ingratuiatingly rheumy, and Firth holds the screen even when there's nothing to hold."
New York Post, 24 August 1994: (excerpt)
"Firth, who played the title role in Milos Forman's Valmont, finds the right balance of intelligence, humor and naivete as the self-assured hero who quickly finds himself over his head."
The Guardian, 10 February, 1996: (excerpt)
"...He (referring to Colin )is not difficult to be with -- not moody or hostile, as some actors are. He simply measures himself out very carefully, weighing all confidences. It is a question of waiting, of listening to the spaces between words, and then making connections. Here, for instance, is a list of actors he admires: Albert Finney, Donald Pleasance, Anthony Hopkins, Robert Duvall. Not one has had a straight line to their lives."
     


Go to Jane's Firth articles page,
for the full-length versions of articles from which quotes are taken.


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TRIVIA

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Chicago Tribune, Sept. 4, 1994 quoting director, Leslie Megahey about Colin and the pig who plays a major role in the film and who his character defends in court. "She (the pig) also could be a little prima donna-ish.  When she got a bit bored with it all, she would take-not a proper bite, exactly, but a little nip at someone.  I could scratch her back for 10 minutes-you have to scratch all actors' backs - and if she'd get fed up, she'd turn around and make some kind of noise, as if to say, go away.  She did that to a few people.  Now, she didn't do it to Colin Firth.  She was deeply in love with her leading man."

More about Colin and the pig from the Daily Mail, May 15, 1996 " The two got on swimmingly during filming on the 1,600-acre Costwold Farm Park in Gloucestershire. When Gwinny produced her first litter of six piglets, Colin sent a postcard saying: "Congratulations. Love, Colin." He has been told that another litter has arrived, father unknown. "He was brilliant with her, says Libby Henson, who runs the farm park with her father Joe. "It was quite a difficult film. They wanted a wild-looking pig which is supposed to have committed murder. They got on like a house on fire." In the film Colin plays a lawyer defending Gwinny. "She really trusted him and finished up sleeping on his lap," adds Libby. There is also the bonus that Gwinny is one girl who won't kiss and tell.

One of the promotional strategies used at the time of the films release was an ad campaign begging audiences not to reveal the "secret" - about whom the advocate defends.

Many sources reported the controversy surrounding the battle for an R rating:  New York Post, 24, August 1994 "The notorious sex scenes between Colin Firth and serving wench Sophie Dix which originally brought The Advocate and NC-17 rating have been chipped away until they push the envelope of R.  They are no more bawdy than Chaucer's Canterbury Tales."  Newsday, 24, August 1994 "The Advocate was one of the two films for which Miramax publicly announced the hiring of its own advocate, William Kunstler, to fight the original NC-17 rating; it has since quietly snipped off a few seconds to get the R."

Several of the actors in The Advocate appeared with Colin in other films:  Jim Carter in the film A Month in the Country (1987) (Carter plays the friendly stationmaster) and Lost Empires, (1986) (Carter plays one of the detectives) and  Ian Holm in the BBC TV performance of the play The Deep Blue Sea (1994). Donald Pleasence played with Colin onstage in a production of The Caretaker (1991) A Harold Pinter play.

Producer associations:  Michael Wearing was executive producer of the BBC productions of Pride & Prejudice (1995) and Nostromo (1996).  Bob and Harvey  Weinstein were producers of The English Patient (1996), My Life So Far aka World of Moss (1998) and  Shakespeare  in Love (1998)

The main filming location was Perouges. Other locations included the castle in Cley for the Seigneur's chateau exterior, Lamas, Espenel and St. Marcel de Felines. 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."


As Courtois struggles to hold on to his dreams, things (literally) begin to fall apart.

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REVIEWS of The Advocate

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Chicago Sun-Times 02 September 1994: (excerpt)

The Advocate is a hard film to categorize, which may be why its distributor, Miramax, has worked overtime, first to publicize an argument with the always helpful MPAA ratings board, and then with an ad campaign begging audiences not to reveal the "secret."  That was a legitimate gimmick when Miramax was protecting the secret of "The Crying Game," but how crucial can a secret be in a film which was released in England as "Hour of the Pig," more or less revealing all that Miramax would conceal?  "The Advocate" doesn't depend on sex or secrets for its charm, but earns it on its own."
Washington Post, 02 September 1994: (excerpt)
The Advocate, informed by true diaries and lawbooks from the period, has its share of raunchiness, including a post- "Tom Jones" roll in a four-poster bed, which features an amusingly well-timed rooster call.  (The scene had to be snipped down to avoid an inflammatory NC-17 rating from the Motion Picture Association of America's ratings board.)  But the material (even in the supposedly shocking, unedited version) is entirely appropriate, if appreciated in context.  The movie, which suggests an inspired collaboration between Peter Greenaway and Monty Python, is many things:  It's a great satire, a comedy, a romance and a diverting medieval murder mystery, with ironic observations about provincialism, superstition, anti-semitism and hypocrisy along the way.
Baltimore Sun 1994 (excerpt):
"This movie is extremely sharp and clever, a murder mystery set against a believable medieval background that turns on the guilt or innocence of a pig.  It's also well acted:  besides Firth, the cast includes Ian Holm, Donald Pleasence and the great Nicol Williamson.  I only wish that Megahey had resisted the temptation to involve a "beautiful gypsy" in the plot; she seems more like a screenweiter's idea than a realistic device."

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FAVORITE QUOTES

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In one of the lighter moments, Father Albertus makes a "confession" to Richard Courtois.

COURTOIS: How does a priest get women?

ALBERTUS: Fear of eternal damnation.  Some priests sell absolution for money, but when it's one of these sweet, young goodwives come to confession.

COURTOIS: You don't!  You threaten them to get them into bed?

ALBERTUS: They know it's all a game.  And the act absolves them from guilt.

COURTOIS: There must be priests in hell.

ALBERTUS: You can't move for  'em.

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Another funny scene:  Richard visits the Seigneur's castle to spy on him and Filette, the Seigneur's daughter, uses the opportunity to make a new friend.

Courtois is preoccupied with watching the Seigneur's activities

FILLETTE: Which would you prefer Richard;  A wife who was true and virtuous, though your neighbors called her  a false woman, or a wife who  you know to be false, though she seemed virtuous to all the world?

COURTOIS: (wasn't listening) Sorry....A wife?

Fillette whispers in his hear.

COURTOIS:  What?  Not here!

Fillette begins making sexual advances, whispers in Courtois' ear and runs up the stairs

COURTOIS: Oh, shit!  (the trapped look on his face is priceless)

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Courtroom Scene.  Jehan d'Auferre is presiding over the court proceedings for the pig.  The pig has a very distinctive marking on the right side of its face.  Courtois is examining a poor peasant who is a witness.

WITNESS: Big pig, black hog.  She was marked on the netherpart of the eye and she was running from the church.

COURTOIS: Like a guilty thing.

WITNESS: Like a guilty thing.

COURTOIS: They're word perfect these witnesses, aren't they.  Speak their lines like born actors.

JEHAN D'AUFERRE: I don't see what this tells us Courtois - that they've been schooled?

COURTOIS:  It is possible Seigneur.

JEHAN D'AUFERRE:  Doesn't seem much of a point to me.  Go on.

COURTOIS:  Marked on the netherpart of the eye.  Turn away, will you.  Face over there.  Which side? Don't turn back.  Left or right?  Which side?

WITNESS:  Left.

COURTOIS: Looking at the pig, the patch was on the left?

WITNESS:  Yes.

COURTOIS:  Thank you.  (Courtois triumphantly finishes his examination of the witness)

PINCHEON:  (addressing witness)  Just a minute.  Now, I noticed that when you took the oath....or better  face your good neighbors.  Now raise your left hand.

After some hesitation the witness raises his right hand.

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MEDIEVAL THEME

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I found the medieval themes very compelling and the superstitions that surrounded everyday life. The film appears to have been widely accredited for portraying an accurate picture of this period in time.  An excerpt from William Manchester's book "A World Lit Only By Fire" gives us a glimpse into medieval life:  "Almost everyone only owned one outfit, so perfumes were used heavily. The Knights’ homes were damp and cold, and reeked from primitive sanitation, but they were spacious. The prosperous peasants all lived with their animals in a communal space. There was one huge bed piled high with filthy straw pallets for people and animals. Wayfarers slept there too, which led to “goings on” when the master of the house was away. If his wife became pregnant she would say that she had been penetrated by an incubus while asleep. Theologians had confirmed that such monsters existed and that it was their demonic mission to impregnate lonely women lost in slumber.  In all classes, table manners were atrocious. Men behaved like boors at table, leaving on their hats and beating their wives while eating. Their clothes and their bodies were filthy."
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THE ADVOCATE RATINGS

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LW "rating system":

***** Superb/breathtaking/heartstopping/etc
**** Excellent
*** Very pleasing
** Still lovely, but . . .
* Bad hair day

personal ratings:

***** Colin's looks
**** Colin's acting ability
**** The film in general
**** Ranking in the films of Colin Firth
**** Watchability & rewind factor

To come: Friends of Firth "The Advocate" ratings



 
 

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WEB LINKS

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Back to Main Roles Page

Visit my Advocate Page & Website

Visit the original Friends of Firth Website, which now incorporates the Circle of Friends web ring

Visit Murph's Website- includes listings for other Firth websites

Visit Lisa's overview of Colin's career & web page

Visit Lisbeth's Colin Firth Timeline

Visit Murph's Medieval Fashions Page

Jane's Articles Page

Visit Luminarium - A wonderful source for Medieval History, Literature, Art and more.


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CREDITS

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Special Thanks to Kathryn for The Advocate poster
and to Susan for Miramax Films press release information

This page written/assembled by Sharon and Barbara  Send me an email

It is part of a Firthland project on the films of Colin Firth.
 
 

Snappy photos taken from video

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