After a torturous 30-year journey, director Terry Gilliam is finally able to show The man Who Killed Don Quixote to British audiences — and even then, only just
After years of tilting at windmills, the director has finally made The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. And it nearly killed him.
When The Man Who Killed Don Quixote finally arrives in UK cinemas this month, it will be three decades since its creator, Terry Gilliam, first pitched an adaptation of Cervantes’ supposedly unadaptable 17th-century classic. It will also be 19 years since his first attempt to make the film, starring Johnny Depp and John Rochefort, collapsed amid floods and illness five days into the shoot; 13 years since he re-secured the rights from the insurance company; four-and-a-half years since production on an all-new version was suspended after lead actor John hurt was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer; and almost three years since he finally wrapped the film after a mysteriously disasterfree shoot. needless to say, it has been a long and difficult journey. One Gilliam was never able to abandon thanks, he says, to “a pig-headedness, a foolishness that my head will eventually break the brick wall. But I just kept thinking, ‘There’s a really great film there.’”
When we met on set in April 2017, atop an air-turbine-crowded hilltop in Villacastin, central Spain, the director described himself as “uneasy — ’cause we’re getting close to actually finishing it. I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.” But he was in good spirits, cackling at the end of takes and enjoying the benevolently sunny weather. Just getting to Day Six of photography was “a major achievement,” he
told Empire, marking the point where Quixote version one disintegrated. The crew even threw him a surprise party to celebrate.
But finally completing the movie — “on schedule, on budget” — with Jonathan Pryce as Quixote and Adam Driver as a cynical ad director losing his grip on reality in La Mancha, didn’t end up being the triumph Gilliam had hoped. Despite a standing ovation after the film’s Cannes premiere in 2018, which reportedly lasted 20 minutes, the sense of achievement was tainted by a matter of bitter litigation. Portuguese producer Paulo Branco claims to own the rights to the film and the Cannes premiere was mired in legal battles; there have been separate court cases over the release in Spain, Portugal and France.
As a result of all the legal shenanigans, the film’s final journey to screens has been chaotic at best. “It’s sad,” says Gilliam, “because it means there’s been no structure to the international release.” He is at least happy it will now finally (that word again) be seen by audiences on his home turf. “Wherever it plays, I’m delighted. But it goes on. I’m basically worn out by the whole thing.”
However, Gilliam rejects the idea that making this film has done him in. “No, it hasn’t killed me at all!” he growls defiantly. Neither does he accept that it is somehow cursed. Rather, the tribulations have all been part and parcel of the Quixote experience. “Quixote is about getting up, falling down and fighting the wrong battles,” he laughs. “Crashing to the ground, picking himself back up and eventually getting through it. And that’s what’s happened. It couldn’t be better as a Quixotic experience!” And even Don Quixote, lest we forget, managed to finish his adventure.
Clockwise from left: Bonkers local cobbler Javier (Jonathan Pryce) as Don with baffled ad director Toby (Adam Driver); “Pig-headed” director Gilliam; Three giant nemeses (Ferran Gadea, Manuel Monzón, Javier Iglesias); Giving Driver a big hand (and Jason Watkins, far left).