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).

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