Released on 18 December 1975, Stanley Kubrick’s 10th feature, Barry Lyndon, is an exquisitely detailed adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel about the picaresque exploits of an 18th-century Irish adventurer.
Set at the time of the Seven Years War, its production followed the collapse of Kubrick’s long-gestating Napoleon project. Famed for his perfectionism, the director went to extraordinary lengths to research and recreate the look of the period, taking inspiration from the era’s great visual stylists, painters such as Thomas Gainsborough and William Hogarth.
Determined to film by natural or historically accurate light sources, Kubrick and his cinematographer John Alcott acquired super-fast lenses to capture scenes lit only by candles. The pristine, painterly look of the finished film was decried by some critics, who found the amoral escapades of the title character (Ryan O’Neal) emotionally uninvolving. Barry Lyndon’s reputation has soared in the years since. In the 2012 Sight & Sound poll of critics, it was voted the 59th best film ever made.