The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1982). Film review of the historical drama about a deformed bell ringer

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Historical/Period/Epic

star rating 3 out of 5 worth watching

Film review by Jason Day of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the 1982 TV-movie adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic novel about a deformed bell ringer’s love for a beautiful gypsy. Starring Anthony Hopkins, Derek Jacobi and Lesley-Anne Down.

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Synopsis

In the 15th century France, a country on the cusp of the modern age, the deformed, crippled Quasimodo (Anthony Hopkins) tends to the bells of fabled Notre Dame cathedral. When his protector Claude Frollo (Derek Jacobi), obsessed with beautiful gypsy dancer Esmerelda (Lesley Anne-Down) frames the girl for a murder, Quasimodo comes to her rescue.

Review, by @Reelreviewer

Water, she gave me water!

Quasimodo (Anthony Hopkins) gives thanks for a much-needed drink.

There have been umpteen stabs at translating Victor Hugo’s mammoth tome onto the big screen, with big successes as the deaf and deformed Quasimodo in the silent era for Lon Chaney and, just over a decade later, Charles Laughton in the immortal and influential 1923 and 1939 versions.

For me the Laughton version remains the best, with several scenes that feature the crowd as a character itself, a singular and vast entity that played a key part at various moments, swelling and soaring on cue from director Willian Dieterle.

There are several cuts of this lavish, 1982, TV movie stab at Victor Hugo’s titan of Victorian literature and the version I saw (via Google Play) runs at one of the lesser timeframes.

At only one hour 42 minutes – compared with a more substantial sounding two and a half hour long cut – it explains the hurried pace and lack of detail in the story, leaving it up to the awesome production values to rescue the piece.

I have never been a fan of the book. I read it as a teenager but after so many chapter about Gothic architecture and, desperate for some action, I gave up and chucked my Penguin Classics copy to the back of my bedroom cupboard.

The script, again owing much to the 1939 adaptation, contains the odd splendid line such as (during Esmerelda’s incarceration) “What a cruel, heartless wench to keep us waiting and from our supper.”

How wonderful were the days of chivalry, eh girls?!

Hopkins, as the crippled campanologist, does something that makes a reviewer stop in their tracks – nothing. Hidden under layers of (not very convincing) prosthetic makeup that disfigures his mouth and with minimal dialogue, this most estimable and impressive of actors, who usually leads the charge in any movie, no matter how small or big the role, is robbed of the voice that makes his film performances so riveting. He looks like a mouldy potato with a straggly, CU Jimmy ginger wig.

Jacobi is a creepy Frollo, but nothing like as scary as Cedric Hardwicke’s lusty, staring villain in the Laughton film.

Down is the most beautiful of film Esmerelda’s and, even though the role is drastically under written, she manages to convey a smidgen of empathy for Quasimodo and, most importantly, empathy from us viewers for her plight as a wronged woman caught up in the maelstrom of historical events.

Cast & credits

Directors: Michael Tuchner, Alan Hume. 1hr 42mins/102mins. Rosemont Productions/Columbia Pictures Television. (PG).

Producer: Norman Rosemont.
Writer: John Gay.
Camera: Alan Hume.
Music: Ken Thorne.
Sets: John Stoll.

Anthony Hopkins, Derek Jacobi, Lesley-Anne Down, David Suchet, Gerry Sundquist, Tim Piggott-Smith, John Gielgud, Robert Powell, Nigel Hawthorne, Roland Culver, Rosalie Crutchley.

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