On the face of it an elegant period drama, Stephen Frears' masterclass in malevolence unfolds as a shocking tale of seduction, betrayal and revenge. Based on Choderlos de Laclos' 18th century book of letters between decadent French aristocrats, Glenn Close and John Malkovich play a pair of deceitful bluebloods who hatch an elaborately spiteful plot to ruin their innocent victims, including a young music teacher (Keanu Reeves), an impressionable ingenue (Uma Thurman) and the virtuous Madame de Tourvel (Michelle Pfeiffer). Its haul of three Oscars included best adapted screenplay for Christopher Hampton.
A cynical plot of seduction is set up by a cunning Marquise (Close) and a seductive Vicomte (Malkovich), who conspire to mastermind a complex plot which should destroy the lives of others and avenge their own grievances.
Cruel and manipulative, their victims include a pure and god-fearing Madame de Tourvel and a naive young music teacher, Chevalier Danceny - played by a surprisingly convincing Reeves.
The sets of the chateaux inhabited by these libertines are magnificent, particularly the ornate and glittering boudoirs in which most of the action takes place.
This is British director Stephen Frears' first American film and was received with international acclaim.
His portrayal of the jaded decadence of the 18th-century French aristocracy, on the eve of the French Revolution, is stunning and absorbing.
Its artistic merits can be measured by the Oscars the film garnered for screenplay, art direction and costume design.