The saga of the now 75-year old Terry Gilliam’s attempt to film The Man Who Killed Don Quixote has gone on for ages now, and it wasn’t that long ago when Gilliam said that he’d given up on ever making it. Pre-production of the first attempt to make the film started in 1998, with a script written by Gilliam and Tony Grisoni which significantly altered the book, with Sancho Panza only have appearing very early on in the film, before being replaced by Toby Grisoni, a 21st-century marketing executive thrown back through time. After Gilliam’s team succeeded in obtaining a budget of $32.1 million without any American financing, the film began shooting in Spain in 2000, with Jean Rochefort as Quixote, Johnny Depp as Grisoni, and Jeremy Thomas as producer. After a significant number of difficulties after only a few days, such as set and equipment destroyed by flooding, the departure of Rochefort due to illness, problems obtaining insurance for the production, and other financial difficulties, the production was suspended after some scenes with Rochefort and Depp had already been shot, and subsequently cancelled. This original production was the subject of the great documentary film Lost in La Mancha in 2002.
Gilliam attempted to relaunch production in 2008 with Robert Duvall as Quixote amidst rumours that Michael Palin almost got the part. Depp was still attached to play Grisoni, but because of his tight schedule he had to leave the project and was replaced by Ewan McGregor. In 2010, Gilliam announced that the funding had collapsed, but in 2014, it was reported that the film was in full pre-production once again, with John Hurt as Quixote and Jack O’Connell as Grisoni,and a much-changed script which, in Gilliam’s words, was about how “movies can damage people”, drawing from his experience in the industry. Filming was set to begin in 2016, but then it was announced in 2015 that the film had been suspended again, due to Hurt being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Now, it seems that pre-production is back on….again….and there is talk that this time the movie could even begin principal photography towards the end of this year, though there are no details concerning financing yet. We do know that Michael Palin is now definitely going to play the title role, and Adam Driver will play the lead part. Here is the latest plot synopsis:
There was a time when Toby was a young film student full of ideals. So he decided to shoot a film adapted from the story of Don Quixote in a pretty Spanish village.
But those days are gone and now Toby is an arrogant publicist, libidinous and jaded. Money and glitter have corrupted him, and while he is in Spain where he finishes filming an ad, he has to juggle with his boss’s wife – Jacqui – a calamitous weather, and his own ego. This is when a mysterious gypsy comes to find him with an old copy of his student film: Toby is upset and decides to go in search of a little village where he had made his first work a long time ago. He discovers with horror that his little film has had terrible effects on this quiet place. Angelica, the girl full of innocence, became a high-class call girl; and the old man who played Don Quixote lost his mind, convinced in his delusion of being the real “Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance.”
A series of incidents lead to a fire that threatens to destroy the village. Wanted by the police, Toby is “saved” by the old fool who takes him for his faithful squire Sancho, and drives on the roads in search of his perfect wife, Dulcinea. During this journey, Toby will face demons, real and imaginary, modern and medieval. Damsels will be saved, jousts will be completed, and giants will be killed!
Reality and fantasy merge in this strange journey, until a spooky ending.
Full of his favourite themes, this sounds like it could be the ultimate Gilliam picture and perhaps a masterpiece to conclude his filmmaking career after the slight disappointment of The Zero Theorem. I’m not a religious person, but I know I’m not the only Gilliam fan praying that The Man Who Killed Don Quixote will now finally get made.