Margot K. Juby, British author of the 2018 book The Martyrdom of Gilles de Rais, has spent much of her life fascinated with de Rais, the controversial French historical figure who was once made a Marshal of France for his valor in the war against the English but later tried and executed for crimes ranging from heresy to sodomy to multiple child murders. Director Edmund Stenson’s The Martyr (U.K., 2021) focuses on both of these people, resulting in a documentary short that should appeal to dark-history buffs, conspiracy-theory enthusiasts, and anyone who likes a well-crafted look at outsiders.
Stenson combines interview footage with Juby — including slides of a family trip when she was a teenager to Champtocé, where de Rais was born, after discovering him in Dennis Wheatley’s book The Devil and All His Works and thinking that de Rais was the most handsome man she had ever seen — with Robbie Ward’s finely crafted animation of scenes from de Rais’ life. Footage from a 1992 mock trial in France led by writer and film director Gilbert Prouteau in which de Rais was found not guilty of the crimes for which he was accused is also featured.
Juby frankly discusses her family life and explains the drive behind her dedication to exonerate the controversial French figure, calling herself “Gilles de Rais’ representative on Earth,” and the obstacles she faces. Stenson does a fine job of bringing to the screen the person behind the passion — some might call it an obsession — of trying to clear the name of the person Wheatley described in the aforementioned book as “one of the blackest sorcerers in history.”(4 / 5)
The Martyr screens as part of MidWest WeirdFest, which takes place March 4–6, 2022 at the Micon Downtown Cinema in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. For more information, visit http://www.midwestweirdfest.com/.