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The Elephant Man 1980 ***

On the back of the incredible weirdness that was Eraserhead, David Lynch was a surprising choice to helm this drama set in Victorian England; executive producer Mel Brooks took quite a gamble, and it paid off; working with a distinguished cast and beautiful black and white photography by Freddie Francis, The Elephant Man is the true story of John Merrick (john Hurt), whose physical malformation made him the subject of a freak show, but who is shown a rare kindness by a sensitive doctor Treves (Anthony Hopkins). Dealing with subject matter which could easily veers towards sentiment or exploitative horror, Lynch does neither, taking a matter-of-fact attitude to Merrick’s life bookended with surrealist sequences. Sir John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller and a memorably bad-ass Michael Elphick add to the dignified credentials, but it’s a personal triumph for Lynch and Hurt, who performs superbly under mountains of make-up.


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