Jodie Comer was immediately intrigued by “The Last Duel” when she was asked to meet with director Ridley Scott about starring in the period film.
In the drama, based on true events and adapted from Eric Jager’s 2004 book “The Last Duel: A True Story of Trial by Combat in Medieval France,” Comer stars as Marguerite de Carrouges, a French noblewoman in the late 1300s who is raped by her husband Jean de Carrouges’ friend Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver). When Jacques denies the crime, Jean (Matt Damon) challenges him to a trial by a duel to the death to determine whether or not he is guilty. If Jean is killed in the duel, Marguerite would also be burned alive for making the accusation.
“It really struck me how there was this huge historical event and the men were kind of glorified and there was so much written about them and this woman at the heart of it, who was the one who went through this ordeal, there was just so little. She just wasn’t present,” Comer told Variety while promoting the film ahead of its release this past weekend.
The film is divided into three chapters, each presenting the individual perspectives of Jean, Jacques and Marguerite. “The idea of playing around with perspective, I thought was kind of dangerous and really interesting,” Comer said. “I thought if it’s executed in the right way, it will be really, really powerful.”
While Damon and Affleck teamed up to write the chapters about the men, writer Nicole Holofcener was brought in for Marguerite’s perspective. “I think she brought such a nuance to the script. There’s a lot that can go unsaid between women and there’s a lot a lot that can be said,” Comer said of Holofcener. “I was able to be really open and vulnerable. We were able to do that with each other and speak openly.”
Damon acknowledged that he and Affleck had an abundance of historical documents to draw from. Holofcener not so much. “I was a little insecure writing about the Middle Ages in the language and making up a life for Marguerite that was not contemporary,” Holofcener said. “I did a lot of research. I had a lot of help researching. It was pretty general and I tried to be specific with Marguerite. It was challenging and fun. I got to make things up.”
Considering how unheard of it was for a woman to not only allege she was raped but to insist her assailant be brought to justice, finding out what drove Marguerite was nearly impossible. “I think she just couldn’t take it anymore,” Holofcener offers as an explanation. “She was mad as hell and she just couldn’t take it anymore…She was violated. She was angry and she honored herself and honored her experience. In those days it was very dangerous and very unique.”
Comer said, “They rightly so wanted to make her the hero. They wanted to give her the space and the opportunity to speak her truth.”
She continued, “She wanted to fight for justice…It was who she was, which is remarkable when you think her life was at stake but I think it’s what she believed in and fought for, which is so empowering.”
Affleck said they consulted with the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, organizations that provided “helpful feedback throughout so we were mindful and sensitive of what this experience of this movie would be like for people who had experienced similar events in their own lives.”