This psychological drama, adapted for the screen by Peter Schaffer from his own stage- play, concerns the psychiatric treatment of Alan Strang (Peter Firth) a stable boy arrested for blinding six horses with a metal spike. A psychiatrist, Dysart (Richard Burton), is charged with unravelling the reasons for the violent act and fruitfully explores the boy’s upbringing by a religiously zealous mother and a repressed, sexually obsessed father, while simultaneously uncovering Alan’s belief in the divinity of horses. But such work is not without cost and Dysart’s mental wellbeing begins to crumble as his own inadequacies and demons spill out.
In this compelling film, riveting performances by Peter Firth and particularly Richard Burton, who both worked together in the stage version, carry the day. The actors manage to breathe life into the dialogue which worked so well on stage but at times seems overly wordy, even clunky, on screen. Schaffer and Lumet also faced problems in transforming theatrical symbolism into cinematic realism.
In the play the symbolic representation of horses distanced the audience, allowing the faceted relationship between boy and horse to work in the film its harder to believe in the boy’s love of a real horse as he cuddles up naked. Here, then, Firths familiarity with the role strengthens the power of his performance, which in another’s hands might not have been so credible.
When it came to music, Lumet turned to Richard Rodney Bennett with whom he’d worked on Murder on the Orient Express. As Kritzerland Recordings put it, Bennett wrote a sparse but extremely effective score, using very unusual orchestration for an ensemble of low string instruments ten violas, eight cellos and six basses. Bennett’s ravishing underscore compliments Lume’ts visuals and Schaffer’s dialogue perfectly.
Equus is an excellent example of film-as-theatre. Peter Shaffer’s play, which he adapted for the screen, has become under Sidney Lumet’s outstanding direction a moving confrontation between a crudely mystical Peter Firth and the psychiatrist (Richard Burton), who is trying to unravel the boys mind. Variety Reviews.
Built around great performances by Burton and Firth, its a weighty, wordy thought-provoking drama that contains great moments of power. Film4.power