There are many reasons to check out Ridley Scott’s brand new historical epic The Last Duel when it’s released in cinemas this weekend, but undoubtedly one of the highlights of the film is the titular duel itself.
The climactic trial-by-combat scene comes after the audience has watched the events leading up to the clash unfold from the perspectives of three different characters: the two combatants Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) and Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) and Jean’s wife Marguerite (Jodie Comer), who has accused Le Gris of rape.
And in an exclusive interview with RadioTimes.com, celebrated director Scott explained the process of staging the duel.
“Well, I’ve done all kinds of violence before from Black Hawk Down to Gladiator,” he said. “And I storyboard everything still – it sounds primitive but if I board it, it’s on paper before I get there so I know exactly what I’m doing.
He continued: “When you’re boarding you’re getting visceral ideas, and so the visceral ideas then get passed on to the stunt coordinator to see if it’s possible without killing each other, and then it goes to the actors.
“And in the case of Adam and Matt they’re both very adept at that form of violent choreography and they don’t hurt each other, so I know I can go the whole nine yards.
“And the duel had to be… I think in real life the duel itself ran for about 11 hours which is kind of crazy… and so it had to feel lengthy, so our duel lasts a long time for an action sequence, about six minutes.
“But I think I wanted to stretch it out as far as I could because it needs to be reflected in what Jodie [Comer] says about four minutes earlier in the third act, where she says ‘my fate is to be decided on which middle-aged man will tire first’. So I wanted to see them getting exhausted.”
Of course, this film is far from Scott’s first foray into the historical epic genre: previous examples include his very first movie The Duellists and the aforementioned Gladiator, while he’s also set to begin production on a new film about Napoleon.
But Scott explained that while he enjoys working in the genre, it’s the specific subject matter itself rather than the overarching genre that draws him to each story.
“It could have been a Western!” he said. “It’s always the center of the story, whether its 1360 or 1818 or Napolean Bonaparte, that’s the kind of peripheral cosmetic overview of what it is, the epic quality.
“But if you’re without a centre to that story, you ain’t got anything and so the centre of the story is the thing that pulled me into it.
“Because Matt (Damon) called me and actually fundamentally took me through what the story was and how the intention cleverly was to tell the story from three different points of view, not unlike the Japanese film Rashomon. And that was always the big grand idea of Matt and Ben [Affleck] and so that’s what drew me in.”