France, 1386 C.E. – The violence and devastation of the Hundred Years War with England has engulfed the country. Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) is a respected knight from Normandy, born of nobility, and known for his bravery and skill on the battlefield. His friend, Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver), the son of a Norman squire, is a courtier whose intelligence and eloquence make him one of the most admired nobles in court. When Count Pierre d’Alençon (Ben Affleck), the King’s cousin and a baron at the Court of Argentan, sides with Le Gris over a bitter property dispute, Le Gris’s status begins to rise, much to Carrouges’ dismay. The relationship continues to sour when Pierre promotes Le Gris over Carrouges and places Le Gris in charge of his affairs, and Carrouges’ narcissism and reckless behavior get him expelled from court.
Carrouges carries on in spite of the injustice, marrying Marguerite (Jodie Comer), the beautiful, smart and strong willed daughter of Sir Robert de Thibouville (Nathaniel Parker), who brings a rather sizable dowry. One year later, Carrouges introduces his wife to Le Gris, now more charming and arrogant than ever, and the two men agree to reconcile their differences. Carrouges continues to fight for his country, returning home after an especially painful defeat to discover Marguerite has been viciously assaulted by Le Gris, who denies the charge. Marguerite refuses to stay silent, stepping forward to accuse her attacker, an act of bravery and defiance that puts her life in jeopardy.
Eager to deflect the shame the allegation has brought to his family, Carrouges takes the matter to the Court at Argentan, but after listening to both sides, Pierre once again sides with Le Gris. Carrouges then travels to the Palais de Justice in Paris to appeal the verdict, where King Charles VI (Alex Lawther) agrees to a trial by combat, a grueling duel to the death, which places the fate of all three in God’s hands.
The Last Duel adaptation is a cinematic and thought-provoking drama told from three distinct perspectives, that explores the ubiquitous power of men, the frailty of justice and the strength and courage of one woman willing to stand alone in the service of truth spoke.
In celebration of the The Last Duel’s release, The Koalition participated in a press conference with actors Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Jodie Comer and screenwriter Nicole Holofcener about adapting the novel, the research behind recreating a medial period movie and more.
“We wrote it before the pandemic. Matt and Ben had already started writing and had decided to write it in this three-part point of view, kind of way. And they asked me to come and write the last part. And I was thrilled. They did not have to beg me,” said Nicole.
“We did beg you,” Ben interjected.
“You didn’t beg me. No way. I was flattered and thrilled and wasn’t sure I could do it but did,” Nicole responded.
“The reason I came on in is because Matt and Ben are not women. Not that they couldn’t write terrific women, plenty of men do, but I think I was able to add my perspective as a female, and a different eye and a different voice as well. Men like Jean de Carrouges and Jacques Le Gris were the heroes of their own stories – but unreliable narrators of history. Marguerite’s perspective is essential, offering a needed correction to the men’s unchallenged views of themselves and the world around them,” Nicole finished.
“These guys were born into the middle of a hundred year war. They only knew this incredibly violent life, part of which was literally raping and pillaging, which were—and still are—weapons of war, but that was the world these guys lived in,” says Damon. “It was incredibly, incredibly violent, so when reading the book it felt like the only story worth telling was hers; her incredible bravery under this awful pressure, to be interrogated that way, to be shamed that way, but to never relent and, in that culture, tell the truth about what happened to her.”
Despite each writer having their own voice from the perspective of Carrouges, Le Gris and Marguerite, respectively, it was important to tell a story that effectively captured all three voices honestly. According to Holofcener, they would work on each other’s scenes for cohesiveness. Even though Nicole wrote the third act, Ben and Matt also had a contributed. “Sometimes, we wrote apart, some together. We knew it was an incredible story, the question was how do we tell it in a way that would be really interesting and that’s when we came up with the perspectives idea and, ultimately, the kind of the bait and switch, where you have two thirds of a movie with these two men only to discover this woman is actually the hero of the whole story,” said Matt.
“By the time we got to the third act, I wanted really to say, no. This is actually the truth. And she’s actually a human being,” said Nicole.
For Jodie, getting to collaborate with the writers presented another way of understanding Marguerite. “I think the most exciting aspect was the fact I’d never done it before. And it was so new. When you approach a character, it’s none of your concern what the other character thinks of you. You don’t have to worry about what they need from you. Whereas, on this film, you really had to think about what the other actor, character, needed from you in that moment in order to for their story to ring true to them. You never have to usually think about that.” Jodie said.
While The Last Duel takes place in 1386 C.E., from the beginning stages of the writing process, they didn’t want the movie and its message to feel was foreign to today’s society. So from the very beginning stages the writers made a deliberate effort to showcase the parallels of the past and the present with similar themes people still encounter.
“What we wanted to point out was the extent to which corrupt, and morally bankrupt, and misogynist institutions, create and produce people who reflect those values. So, rather than just an indictment of a bad person, a bad man, to say, well, here, look. You have the church, you have science, you have the court. You have this whole Western European civilization, of which we are an antecedent, culturally by and large, said Ben”
“At least, that’s the notion of the United States, it’s the result of the Enlightenment and its philosophies, and so forth. Even though it’s actually not true. The idea is, here, this predominant culture comes from this other culture that is what produced these values. And this culture in terms of how it educates people, and in terms of what it rewards, socially. In terms of the behavior that is encouraged. In the character I play, sort of representing, yes, like, could have been just a complete villain. But my hope was, yes, he’s a villain. He’s [done] horrible things.”
“But really, the idea, that when a person is in power, and represents these values, and says, these are the values we encourage in you, and you’ll be rewarded for following them. It’s more about where Adam [Driver]’s character is, and how he’s taught to behave, and what he’s rewarded for, than it is about the essential nature of his character. In other words, people can be changed and created by these large institutions. And that’s the value system we wanted to indict. And so, that required making sure on a kind of architectural level, all those elements were included.”
“And then you have to just throw it away and hope the great actors make you identify with the people. And so none of that feels pedantic or like your sermons or like a term paper, you know?” Ben finished.
“If [only] the audience could walk out of this movie and say, wow, it was awful back then. Thank god it’s not like that anymore,” Nicole said sarcastically.
“The construct was the world of women is totally ignored, and overlooked, and is invisible for the first two acts of the movie. And then it’s revealed in the third act. And that’s actually because Ben and I were adapting a book. Nicole was really writing an original screenplay. Because the men of the time were they took very fastidious notes about what they were all up to, but they didn’t record what the women were doing. And so, Nicole really had to create Jodie’s world, Marguerite’s world, out of whole-cloth,” said Matt.
Eric Jager’s compelling 2004 book, The Last Duel: A True Story of Crime, Scandal, and Trial by Combat in Medieval France, is a true story based on historical source materials about a legendary duel to the death, the last officially recorded trail by combat of its kind. The book brings the turbulent Middle Ages to life in striking detail. When etiquette, social aspirations and justice were driven by the codes of chivalry, the consequences for defying the institutions of the time – the Church, the nobility at court, a teenage king – could be severe. For a woman navigating these violent times, one who had no legal standing without the support of her husband, the stakes were even higher.
“I think the beautiful thing about the script was, it was all there on the page, you know? The intentions were very, very clear as to what was needed in each perspective. [But] what was sometimes jarring, was that we shot each version simultaneously. So, we were literally jumping from one to the next.I’m always wanting to make sure that we’ve got Marguerite,” said Jodie.
“I felt really loyal to her. And really wanted to make sure we’d always got that in the bag. And then I felt like I could play around with the other versions. I was kind of afforded a lot of freedom in what I wanted to explore. We kind of played around with the subtlety and how far we wanted to push it. We kind of got a little bit delirious in that scene. It was great to then see the final film and see how all those moments play out, ’cause it’s so important that when you’re in each perspective, you’re really kind of invested in what that character is telling you,” Jodie finished.
“She’s being generous. The script was more or less, a great actress will show us the subtlety and nuance. The differences between the various perspectives. She’s also being very humble ‘cause Jodie actually helped, we had sessions where after work, where we would have dinner, and we would sit there, and we would go through the script with Jodie,” said Ben.
“[The movie] doesn’t work unless Jodie is so smart, and brave, and complicated in her performance. Where she’s willing to, and I’m not sure every actor would have play[ed] another character’s point of view of them self rather than their sense of their true self. And because she does that so perfectly, so that it’s seamless, you don’t get a sense it’s an exaggerated version of a person,” said Ben.
“It feels like versions of women we’ve seen in movies before. And we wanted to exploit the fact that, historically, people are in many ways, largely accustomed to women being secondary and tertiary characters. So that it would seem out of the ordinary. And she was willing to play that and makes the reveal, I think, so much more powerful and elegant, to see the difference between a essentially two-dimensional person, and a fully-realized, three-dimensional human being,” Ben concluded.
The Last Duel is in theaters only on October 14th.