“Dangerous Liaisons” is one of the great modern classic films – for a modern emphasis. Although it aired 30 years ago and concerns the lives of characters in 18th-century France, its exploration of the scenes people use to mask their baser needs and impulses feels as current as an Instagram filter.
The renovation of the property makes it look both attractive and a little wrong. Based on the stage play from Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ 1782 novel, the film is clearly adaptable. But forcing modernity on its own is to overstate the issue. This is a story that resonates in the first place – little adaptation needed.
But Starz and series creator Harriet Warner have stepped up to the plate with a new adaptation starring Alice Englert in the role Glenn Close made famous. In this preface, Englert did not yet hold the powerful title of Marquise de Merteuil; The show follows Camille’s rise from poverty and her toxic relationship with the rakish Valmont (Nicholas Denton). Their pas de deux has a sexual openness and directness that surprises the film’s characters; Also, each section is arranged in a sequence that seems to represent a new advance on the game board.
The show is a joy to watch and, in a welcome update, features a well-rounded cast and capable actors, with Englert proving a fine lead. But the voice grows a little tired; The show doesn’t have the world control or cohesive feel of, say, the new “Gossip Girl,” a legacy of the season-ending series “Relationships.” Englert and Denton’s chemistry and hunger for salvation is real and powerful, but feels out of touch in a show where every other character seems to be in aphorism or exaggeration. For example, although the royal palace is, in any work of fiction, a place of peacocking, this is taken to an unpleasant and unrealistic extreme once Camille arrives there. “Paris is a dangerous place for the uninitiated,” a court official told her, as if the point was not clear, “you stranger!” she said. She continued, in what was clearly intended as a bit of camp wonder, “There’s only one room for a hot-faced Pussicat in Paris, and that’s me!”
When such a line does not come down, it Really It doesn’t. And they’re full of “Dangerous Liaisons” — a time when 21st-century television’s subtitle-free, straight-to-the-point approach makes characters seem to forget they’re in a creative universe where cover-ups and disguises are really the stuff of the game. Leslie Manville, at least, emerges unscathed; The actress, who was recently seen in “The Crown” as the same Snow Princess Margaret, will play a current titleholder, a marquis, who finds herself an incompetent tutor in the ways of power. “Men, Camille, think they’ll pluck us when we’re ripe and sweet,” she says, peeling an orange with a knife to complete the pattern. “Our skill is to make them believe.” The interaction between the men and the women is clearly defined and marked with a somewhat sad note: Manville’s sale is a testament to her power, and perhaps the main plot points of the story. “Dangerous Liaisons” is timeless – even if it doesn’t fit the current storytelling style.
“Dangerous Liaisons” premieres Sunday, Nov. 6 at midnight on the Starz app.