Equus (1977): Lumet’s Oscar Nominated Version of Peter Shaffer’s Play, Starring Richard Burton and Peter Firth

Peter Shaffer’s smash hit play (in London and on Broadway) gets a bumpy screen adaptation from Sidney Lumet in a version in which the vivid theatricality is gone but is not substituted by something else.


Richard Burton, who also played the role on stage though he did not originate it, is superb as the troubled psychiatrist who is trying to unlock deep-rooted problems of stable boy (Peter Firth), who in a ferocious act of violence blinded his horses under his care.  The roots of the problem may go back to the boy’s relationship with his strange parents (played by Joan Plowright and Colin Blakely).


Who’s more troubled? The psychiatrist, the designated care-taker, who seems to have a bag of problems of his own, such as alcoholism, turbulent personal life, and other ills. Or the young, working-class patient who doesn’t understand himself or his act.


Shafter goes for the exploration of some “deep philosophical” issues, which somehow were more convincing in the theater, but sound pretentious in the movie.  Thus, while psychosis stands for passion and creativity, the cure, which the psychiatrist feels it’s his professional duty to deliver, is boredom and conformity.


The film also stars Harry Andrews, Eillen Atkins, and Jenny Agutter, as the girl who’s in love with the tormented boy.


Peter Shaffer is the twin brother of playwright-screenwriter Anthony Shaffer, who wrote several plays that were made into movies, such as “The Royal Hunt of the Sun” (1969) and, of course, “Amadeus,” which won the 1984 Best Picture Oscar.


Verbose and dominated by monologues, the movie failed at the box-office, despite the acclaimed acting.


Oscar Nominations: 3


Best Actor: Richard Burton

Supporting Actor: Peter Firth

Screenplay (Adapted): Peter Shaffer


Oscar Awards: None


Oscar Context:


In 1977, the winner of the Best Actor was Richard Dreyfuss for the comedy “The Goodbye Girl,” and the Supporting Actor winner was Jason Robards for “Julia,” which also received the Adapted Screenplay (by Alvin Sargent) Award.