Dangerous Liaisons (1988): Stephen Frears’ Oscar-Winning Version of Christopher Hampton’s Play, Starring Glenn Close and Michelle Pfeiffer

Emotional cruelty, way beyond sexual manipulation, is the rule of the game of Christopher Hampton’s award-winning play, which was done under the title “Les Liaisons Dangereuses,” with great success in London and New York.

Set in eighteenth-century France, Hampton’s play, itself an adaptation of the noted and notorious Choderlos de Laclos, is based on a single but good premise. The aristocratic Close challenges her peer and former lover Malkovich to seduce the virtuous Michelle Feiffer. This premise gets some entertaining permutations, barely sufficient to hold our attention for the film’s duration.

Stephen Frears’s smoothly assured direction punches the witty lines in Hampton’s adaptation to the big screen, and a fabulous, all-American cast, headed by Glenn Close, John Malkovich, Michelle Pfeiffer, Mildred Natwick, Swoosie Kurtz, and the very young Uma Thurman, doesn’t miss a single cue in its delivery.

Oscar Nominations: 7

Picture, produced by Norma Heyman and Hank Moonjean
Actress: Glenn Close
Supporting Actress: Michelle Pfeiffer
Screenplay (Adapted): Christopher Hampton
Art Direction-Set Decoration: Stuart Craig; Gerard James
Costume Design: James Acheson
Original Score: George Fenton

Awards: 3

Screenplay (Adapted)
Art Direction-Set Decoration
Costume Design

Oscar Context

In one of Oscar’s biggest snubs, Frears failed to receive Best Director nomination from his colleagues at the Academy’s Directors Branch. Frears’ s “place” was taken either my Brit Charles Crichton (“A Fish Called Wanda”) and/or Scorsese (“The Last Temptation of Christ”), since neither “Fish” nor “Christ” landed a spot among the Best Picture nominees, which in 1988 included: “The Accidental Tourist,” Mississippi Burning,” “Rain Man,” which swept most of the Oscars, and the comedy “Working Girl.”