Terry Gilliam finishes filming Don Quixote – a brief history of his 'cursed movie'

Ben Arnold
Contributor
Wrapped… Terry Gilliam has finally wrapped his ‘cursed’ Don Quixote movie – Credit: Low Key Productions

Terry Gilliam has announced that he’s wrapped on his movie ‘The Man Who Killed Don Quixote’, the film he’s been trying to make since 1998.

“Sorry for the long silence,” he wrote on Facebook yesterday.

“I’ve been busy packing the truck and am now heading home. After 17 years, we have completed the shoot of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. Muchas gracias to all the team and believers. QUIXOTE VIVE!”

(Credit: Facebook)

Quixote vive, indeed. But for much of the past decade or so, it was more a case of Quixote muerte.

The Monty Python legend tried to make the movie eight times over 19 years, with varying degrees of failure.

Basing his film – penned by British screenwriter Tony Grisoni – on Miguel de Cervantes’ classic text, it was set to star various actors in the lead, from Michael Palin, Gérard Depardieu, and Ian Holm, to Robert Duvall, and John Hurt.

In support were the likes of Ewan McGregor, Christopher Eccleston and, eventually, Johnny Depp, playing the role of a 21st century marketing executive thrown back in time and mistaken for Sancho Panza by Quixote.

(Credit: Low Key Productions)

But it was beset with disaster again and again, many citing it as the example that typified the notion of a movie being marooned in ‘development hell’.

The celebrated documentary ‘Lost In La Mancha’ filmed the movie’s particularly disastrous shoot in 2000, during which it was variously thwarted with constant noise from NATO aircraft on manoeuvres in the Spanish desert, and then by apocalyptic weather and flash flooding, which washed away all the camera and sound equipment.

It also changed the colour of the surrounding landscape, making the footage shot up to that point all but useless.

(Credit: Low Key Productions)

His star, the French actor Jean Rochefort, who had learned to speak English especially for the role, then had to drop out due to a herniated disc, the final nail in the movie’s coffin.

But then in 2008, Gilliam announced it had come back to life, this time with Robert Duvall in the lead role, opposite Ewan McGregor. (Duvall was later replaced by John Hurt).

Asked by Rolling Stone why he persisted with the project, he said: “Oh, I don’t know, pigheadedness, stupid – I really don’t know anymore.

“I’m beginning to actually think, ‘If it doesn’t work this time, I’m gonna dump it.’ I’ve wasted far too much of my life doing it. If you’re going to do Quixote, you have to become as mad as Quixote. I’ve wasted how many years? Fifteen? Yeah, there’s a certain point. It’s kind of the determination to be crazy and unreasonable.

“Every intelligent person around me says, ‘Walk away from it.’ But those are reasonable people.”

But to his credit, he did not, and in 2015, Amazon Studios threw money behind it, though it suffered further tragedy when John Hurt was forced to pull out due to his diagnosis with pancreatic cancer just prior to filming.

This newly-wrapped version finds Jonathan Pryce in the lead role as the Windmill-jousting Spanish knight, alongside Adam Driver, Olga Kurylenko, and Stellan Skarsgård.

Finally in the can, it’s due out in 2018.

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