Barry Lyndon is a 1975 period drama film written, directed, and produced by Stanley Kubrick, based on the 1844 novel The Luck of Barry Lyndon by William Makepeace Thackeray. Starring Ryan O'Neal, Marisa Berenson, Patrick Magee, Leonard Rossiter, and Hardy Krüger, the film recounts the early exploits and later unravelling of an 18th-century Irish rogue and opportunist who marries a rich widow to climb the social ladder and assume her late husband's aristocratic position.
Kubrick began production on Barry Lyndon after his 1971 film A Clockwork Orange. He had originally intended to direct a biopic on Napoleon, but lost his financing because of the commercial failure of the similar 1970 Dino De Laurentiis-produced Waterloo. Kubrick eventually directed Barry Lyndon, set partially during the Seven Years' War, utilising his research from the Napoleon project. Filming began in December 1973 and lasted roughly eight months, taking place in England, Ireland, East Germany, and West Germany.
The film's cinematography has been described as ground-breaking. Especially notable are the long double shots, usually ended with a slow backwards zoom, the scenes shot entirely in candlelight, and the settings based on William Hogarth paintings. The exteriors were filmed on location in Ireland, England and West Germany, with the interiors shot mainly in London. The production had problems related to logistics, weather, and politics (Kubrick feared that he might be an IRA hostage target).
Barry Lyndon won four Oscars at the 48th Academy Awards: Best Scoring: Original Song Score and Adaptation or Scoring: Adaptation, Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction, and Best Cinematography. Although some critics took issue with the film's slow pace and restrained emotion, its reputation, like that of many of Kubrick's works, has grown over time.
Part I: By What Means Redmond Barry Acquired the Style and Title of Barry Lyndon
An omniscient (though possibly unreliable) narrator relates that in 1750s Ireland, Redmond Barry's father is killed in a duel over a sale of some horses. The widow devotes herself to her only son. Barry becomes infatuated with his older cousin, Nora Brady. Nora and her family plan to improve their finances through marriage to a well-off British Army captain, John Quin. Barry shoots Quin in a duel, then flees. He is robbed by highwayman Captain Feeney. Penniless and dejected, Barry joins the British Army. Later, family friend Captain Grogan informs him that his dueling pistol had been loaded with tow, and Quin is not dead: the duel was staged by Nora's family to get rid of Barry.
Barry's regiment fights in Germany in the Seven Years' War. Grogan is fatally wounded in a skirmish. Fed up with the war, Barry deserts. En route to neutral Holland, he encounters Frau Lieschen. The two briefly become lovers. Later, Barry encounters Prussian Captain Potzdorf, who, seeing through his disguise, offers him the choice of being handed over to the British to be shot or enlisting in the Prussian Army. Barry enlists and later receives a special commendation from Prussian King Frederick II for saving Potzdorf's life in a battle.
Two years later, after the war ends in 1763, Barry is employed by Captain Potzdorf's uncle in the Prussian Ministry of Police. The Prussians suspect the Chevalier de Balibari, a professional gambler, of spying for the Austrians, and have Barry become his servant. Barry reveals everything to the Chevalier, a fellow Irishman. They become confederates. After they cheat the Prince of Tübingen at cards, the Prince accuses the Chevalier of cheating and demands satisfaction. Barry's Prussian handlers, still suspecting that the Chevalier is a spy, arrange for the Chevalier to be expelled from the country. Alerted by Barry, the Chevalier flees in the night. The next morning, Barry, disguised as the Chevalier, is escorted from Prussia.
Over the next few years, Barry and the Chevalier travel across Europe, perpetrating gambling scams, with Barry forcing payment from reluctant debtors with sword duels. In Spa, he encounters the beautiful and wealthy Countess of Lyndon. He seduces and later marries her after the death of her elderly husband, Sir Charles Lyndon (caused by Barry's goading and verbal repartee).
Part II: Containing an Account of the Misfortunes and Disasters Which Befell Barry Lyndon
In 1773, Barry takes the Countess's last name and settles in England. Lord Bullingdon, Lady Lyndon's ten-year-old son by Sir Charles, quickly comes to despise Barry. Barry retaliates by physically abusing Bullingdon. The Countess bears Barry a son, Bryan Patrick, but the marriage is unhappy: Barry is openly unfaithful and enjoys spending his wife's money, while keeping her in seclusion.
Barry's mother comes to live with him. She warns him that if Lady Lyndon were to die, Lord Bullingdon would inherit everything, and advises him to obtain a noble title to protect himself. Toward this goal, he cultivates the acquaintance of the influential Lord Wendover and spends large sums of money to ingratiate himself to high society. However, Lord Bullingdon, now a young adult, crashes a lavish birthday party Barry throws for Lady Lyndon. He publicly explains why he detests his stepfather and declares he will leave the family estate for as long as Barry remains there and married to his mother. Barry viciously assaults Bullingdon until he is physically restrained. This causes him to be cast out of polite society.
Barry proves an overindulgent father to Bryan and gives him a full-grown horse for his ninth birthday. Bryan is thrown from the horse and dies a few days later. The grief-stricken Barry turns to alcohol, while Lady Lyndon seeks solace in religion, assisted by the Rev. Samuel Runt, who had been tutor to Lord Bullingdon and Bryan. Barry's mother dismisses Runt, both because the family no longer needs (nor can afford, due to Barry's spending debts) a tutor and for fear that his influence will worsen Lady Lyndon's condition. Lady Lyndon later attempts suicide. Runt and Graham, the family's accountant, then seek out Lord Bullingdon, who returns and challenges Barry to a duel.
A coin toss gives Bullingdon the first shot, but he nervously misfires his pistol. Barry magnanimously fires into the ground, but Bullingdon refuses to let the duel end. In the second round, Bullingdon shoots Barry in the leg. The leg has to be amputated below the knee. While Barry is recovering, Bullingdon takes control of the Lyndon estate. He offers Barry 500 guineas a year provided he leave England forever. With his credit exhausted, Barry accepts. The narrator states that Barry resumes his former profession of gambler (though without his former success). In December 1789, a middle-aged Lady Lyndon signs Barry's annuity cheque as her son looks on.