TBT: The Advocate (1993)

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I just need everyone to know that I wanted to make this a really professional post that would do justice to this film, but … time got away from me and then there were cocktails, and, well… this is a free website so you get what you pay for.

With that out of the way, The Advocate (1993) — or, as it was known in the UK by the apparently way less marketable title, The Hour of the Pig — is one of my favorite films featuring Colin Firth. This predates Mr. Darcy by a good few years, but Firth, in his prime, without the restrictions of pearl-clutching audiences, is faaaabulous in this flick. Want a shirtless Firth scene? This film has that. Want a (gasp) Firth sex scene? Watch the British version for the extended cut. Want to see a film rock the 15th century and all of its weirdness? This film is for you.

The premise of The Advocate is Richard Courtois (based on Barthélemy de Chasseneuz, an actual historical person), who is a “big city attorney” (by 15th-century standards) who longs to get away from the crush of city life for a simpler existence in the country, and by doing so, learns that French country life in the 15th century is pretty fucked up.

To start off, he’s immediately called to represent a pig in a trial (which automatically has more legal rights than the local “Moorish” family existing at the fringes of society) and that dispels any notion of quaint, simple country life pretty much right off the bat. Add in a degenerate priest (Ian Holm), a shady prosecutor (Donald Pleasence), a regional lord who bought his way into the nobility (Nicol Williamson), and an itinerant group of “Moors” living on the edges of society, who, because of racism, get swept up into a murder case through no fault of their own, and you have the making of one hell of a medieval murder mystery that would put even Brother Cadfael through his paces.

 

Colin Firth, Jim Carter, and Ian Holm. If this trio doesn’t make you want to watch the film, I don’t know what will.

 

Did I not promise you shirtless Colin Firth? Shirtless Ian Holm included as a gift with purchase.

 

Technically, this falls under “contractually obligated leather pants,” but I’m going to let it slide.

 

Harriet Walter is captivating as the wrongly accused “witch,” Jeannine.

 

Amina Annabi plays Samira, the “Moorish” woman who ends up caught up in the middle of the murder spree in Abbeville. She is well aware of the disadvantage she and her family are at and is pivotal in convincing Richard that something more insidious is at play in Abbeville.

 

Some of the best medieval costumes you’ll see on film are in the crowd scenes of this movie.

 

The Hour of the Pig (1993) - The Advocate

The pig in question (& more of the crowd scene)

 

The costumes on Filette d’Auferre, the daughter of the Seigneur are some of the best of the film.

 

Lysette Anthony plays Filette. I’m 60/40 on whether or not she actually shaved her forehead for this role.

 

A portrait of Elizabeth Wodeville, c. 1472, for comparison.

 

This film nails the 1470s SO HARD IT HURTS.

 

One of the iconic scenes from the film, showing Richard and the Seigneur discussing … things … in front of a giant 15th-c. tapestry.

 

A good side-by-side contrast of men’s 15th-century fashion for a well-to-do commoner and a wealthy lord. Firth’s cote is longer (but not too long), while the Seigneur’s is substantially shorter with more tailoring and out of richer fabric.

 

The love story between Samira and Richard is bittersweet. She is realistic about their prospects, while he is certain they can overcome any obstacles.

 

Have you seen The Advocate? What are your thoughts?

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About the author

Sarah Lorraine

Sarah has an undergraduate degree in Clothing & Textile Design and a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture, with an emphasis on fashion history. When she’s not caught in paralyzing existential dread, she's drinking craft cocktails and writing about historical costume in film and television. She's been pissing people off on the internet since 1995.

19 Responses

  1. Shashwat

    Why does Samira look so terribly modern to my eyes?Maybe her hair,which I confess is gorgeous.
    Those burgundian/ish gowns are so pretty-pretty princessy(despite the fact that interpreting the contrasting overturned lapels and collars and cuffs as wide satin trim is not a theatrical,but a rather lazy choice).Those luscious locks could have been tucked into her dainty truncated hennin.The film had surprisingly good costuming,with some questionable choices for Firth.
    I find it rather amusing that British are stereotyped as stiff upper lipped aristocrats and Americans laid back millennials,but the censoring doesn’t quite agree with the aforementioned perception of the two nations.

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      Samira does look very modern, it’s not just you. I think it’s in large part due to the fact that the costuming choices for her character are 1) not very well researched for this era, so a lot of more modern concessions were used, and 2) her hair and makeup are very much more in line with what we think of as a modern look.

      In the film, it really sets her apart because the rest of the white cast is costumed to look as close to the 15th century ideal for fashion/beauty as possible. What ends up happening is that all the white characters start to look like aliens, and Samira looks the most normal to modern eyes, which works well within the context of the plot because Samira’s voice is often used to point out the artifice, ridiculousness, and hypocrisy of the white culture surrounding her.

      She even calls Richard on it when he confesses his love for her and begs her to marry him and run away to the city, where presumably it would be less weird for a successful advocate to take an “Egyptian” wife (the film uses the terms “Egyptian” and “Moorish” kind of interchangeably, while the people in question are really neither. Samira at one point tells Richard she was born right up the road from Abbeville and her family had been in France for generations). She points out that she knows he’s only attracted to her “otherness”, and that taking her as his brown-skinned wife, to bear him brown-skinned children, would do him not favors in society and eventually cause him to resent her.

      Gah, I could go on and on about Samira. She’s one of the best characters in this film.

      Reply
      • Shashwat

        I just watched the film,and I get how the costuming choices helped her stand out.Even though I would have appreciated it more if they used actual,authentic “moorish” influences rather than just different,I can totally see that the liberties worked well within the context of the film.

        Reply
  2. Boxermom

    Thanks, Sarah! I can’t believe I’ve never heard of this. Now I must track it down! :)

    Reply
  3. Saraquill

    Can anyone explain to me the sex appeal of Colin Firth? My orientation runs in rather different directions.

    Reply
    • Colleen

      For me, he carries himself well. He has great posture. It’s hard for me to describe what I find so attractive about him, but he’s gorgeous.

      Reply
    • M.E. Lawrence

      I used to find Firth kind of boring: competent but passive, as if he didn’t really want to be there. (In other words, perfect for “Girl with a Pearl Earring.”) I think P&P brought out a little smolder in him–and perhaps his self-confidence as a performer grew. No charm in an actor who doesn’t like performing.

      Reply
  4. hsc

    I’m glad you reviewed this.

    Either version of the film is kind of hard to track down (although I think it used to show up on HBO/Cinemax), so I figured that was the reason for its absence, despite: a) Colin Firth b) incredible costumes and hairstyles.

    The medieval makeover on Lysette Anthony and Joanna Dunham (playing Filette’s mother) was covered on the website The Makeup Gallery, which focuses on effects makeups on actresses– and has a section on historical makeup jobs by era that should be checked out:

    https://www.themakeupgallery.info/
    site address

    https://www.themakeupgallery.info/period/index.htm
    period makeups

    https://www.themakeupgallery.info/period/lmedieval/c15/pig.htm
    Hour of the Pig makeups

    According to a quote from Anthony on the website:

    “I wouldn’t let them shave my head, but we bleached all of this [her hairline] white blonde then they plucked all my eyebrows, and I had brown contact lenses.”

    Reply
    • Jose

      Lyssette Anthony deserved a WCW I’m quite sure I’ve seen her in a handful of period films
      Let me make an Off topic comment could one of the girls from FF review the 1977 Anna Karenina I think it’s well dressed and is a nice adaptation or then maybe a comparison of what is the best dressed version I would recommend:
      The 1935 1948 1961 1967 1974 Italian series 1974 ballet 1977 mini series, 1985 film, 1997, 2000, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2017
      Believe me most of them have very nice costumes

      Reply
  5. susan l eiffert

    The people in that first crowd scene look quite medieval, particularly the woman who seems to be the focus of others’ stares. She looks like she stepped right out of a 15thc painting!

    Reply
    • Heather Ripley

      I’m glad I was not the only one who noticed @Gina P!

      This film looks interesting (me needs some Colin Firth), wish me luck in finding a copy to watch…..

      Reply
  6. Al Don

    So glad you decided to review this film! It’s long been my go-to recommendation for “eh… close as it gets for Medieval”. I think the story highlights something interesting: while most institutions, like the military, don’t work at all today like they did in the Middle Ages (something filmmakers can’t seem to understand), one institution that’s eerily similar is the public defender – or “advocate” – system.

    As far as period details go, I’d say it’s superior to the otherwise studious Jeanne la pucelle (1994), which had to make budgetary compromises, the otherwise brilliant Marketa Lazarová (1967), and ones like Anchoress (1993) and Beatrice (1987). To my mind one of the few films that comes close is Le Miracle des loups (1924) – likewise far from perfect but a better effort than most.

    Reply
  7. Lily Lotus Rose

    I’ve got to add this one to my list! As soon as I saw the picture, I remember that it had been favorably reviewed way back when. Everything from your post looks amazing–cast, costumes, and plot.
    Your description of the plot reminds me of a movie I saw way back when (2002) called The Reckoning. It stars Willem Defoe, Paul Bettany, Vincent Cassel, a young Tom Hardy, and it’s very much worth watching. I suspect you haven’t seen it, because it wasn’t included on Tom Hardy’s Man Candy Monday post. It is excellent.
    Re Colin Firth’s appeal: I don’t know what it is either. All I know is, some days I think objectively with no overwhelming desire, “Yes, I see it. He’s an attractive man.” Other days, I just start drooling at the sight of him. Go figure! Whether or not he makes me drool, he’s always a compelling actor.

    Reply
    • Heather Ripley

      Darn, yet another film I have not seen, want to see, but not on Netflix (including Lily’s suggestion above). I guess I need to re-think and expand my viewing options.

      Reply
  8. Lily Lotus Rose

    Heather, if you’re in the US and have a library card you might have access to Hoopla and Kanopy. Those are streaming services specifically for libraries. I’ve found a few of the recommended FrockFlicks between these services like The Slipper and The Rose and Elizabeth R. I haven’t checked either of them yet for The Advocate or The Reckoning. But, they are FREE which is lovely, considering that all the various streaming services and even one-time digital rentals can really rack up. And of course, there’s always the option of looking for a good-ol’ unauthorized version on YouTube (but I prefer to go through “proper” channels when I can).

    Reply

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