What was seemingly a film impossibility for 20 years has come to pass: We have a trailer for Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. No more talk—go ahead and watch the thing, and THEN we’ll discuss it. Occasions like this don’t come around every week, or year, or decade.
This is a movie that most film geeks never expected to see—indeed, the more you knew about The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, the more impossible it seemed that it would ever manage to come to fruition. Gilliam, the visionary director of Brazil and other films, first began production on this story, based on the classic novel by Miguel de Cervantes, back in 1998. Since then, he’s attempted to produce the film no fewer than eight different times in the 19-20 years that followed, with an ever-changing cast. Each time, pitfalls seem to appear that postpone production. But now, Gilliam has finally done it—The Man Who Killed Don Quixote has a May premiere date at Cannes. For the 77-year-old Gilliam, that’s gotta feel good.
In its original formulation, the film would have starred Jean Rochefort as Quixote and Johnny Depp as Toby Grisoni, a modern day marketing executive who is thrust back through time—although it’s not clear whether Rochefort’s character (now played by Jonathan Pryce of Game of Thrones/Pirates of the Caribbean fame) is actually Quixote, or simply an old man who believes himself to be Don Quixote. Shooting on the original film began in 2000, but natural disasters befell the film set and Rochefort had to step down after illness. The heartbreaking nature of the film falling apart was documented in the film Lost in La Mancha, often considered the definitive documentary on a “lost film.” Now, ironically, the release of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote will mean that Lost in La Mancha is merely about a film that took 20 years to make, rather than one that was never released.
Pryce, who played the soft-spoken but menacing High Sparrow on Game of Thrones, is the latest to step into the title role that has been occupied by everyone from Robert Duvall and Michael Palin to the late, great John Hurt over the years. It only makes sense, as his breakthrough role was in Gilliam’s own Brazil. Meanwhile, Adam Driver is now playing Grisoni, a role that had previously been held by Depp, Ewan McGregor and Jack O’Connell in previous versions.
Watching the trailer above, the results look promising. Pryce has a wry sense of humor to his performance, and his Quixote seems very much the idealistic, noble fool. Driver, meanwhile, is riding high in the wake of The Last Jedi, and this could be a good opportunity for him to stretch his range. It will also be particularly fascinating to see how Gilliam’s attachment to and history with this project translates to a directorial vision.
Regardless, it feels good to know that one of cinema’s most famous lost films won’t be lost for very much longer.