Oscar-winner Anthony Hopkins stars in the adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic tale of unrequited love, hope and injustice. Set in the year 1450 against the background of the famed Paris cathedral, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME also stars Derek Jacobi, Leslie-Anne Down, Sir John Gielgud and Robert Powell.
It’s one of European literature’s most vivid and romantic tales, so it’s no wonder that Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame (actually entitled Notre Dame de Paris by the French novelist) has been adapted for screens both big and small for literally the past 100 years. And while the wicked, tormented priest Dom Claude Frollo is perhaps the most important character, it’s the relationship between Quasimodo, the pathetic but pure-hearted bell ringer, and Esmeralda, the gypsy girl who bewitches him and turns most every other man who comes near her into a fool, that lies at the heart of the tale--hence such notable pairings as Lon Chaney and Patsy Ruth Miller (in the 1923 silent classic), Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara, Anthony Quinn and Gina Lollobrigida… even Mandy Patinkin with Salma Hayek. This 1982 made-for-TV version sports Anthony Hopkins as Quasimodo, and not surprisingly, he acquits himself well; even subsumed in a red fright wig and the slabs of makeup that turn him into a hideous monster, Hopkins conveys the mixture of innocence, confusion, and defiance that makes the character so poignant. Lesley-Anne Down, though undeniably beautiful, is much less convincing as Esmeralda, but Derek Jacobi hams it up effectively as Frollo, whose lust for the gypsy dancer turns him into a sanctimonious lunatic. Director Michael Tuchner’s film creates a pretty persuasive ambience for his medieval Paris, with its mud and squalor contrasting with the majesty of the great cathedral, and the most famous scenes (like Quasimodo being paraded around as the King of the Fools, or Esmeralda giving him some water after he’s been publicly flogged) pack a punch. All in all, while this sometimes over-ripe and corny version can’t measure up to those with Chaney and Laughton, it’s still plenty entertaining. There are no bonus features. --Sam Graham