Barry Lyndon isn’t your average Stanley Kubrick film. While many remember Kubrick’s greatest works as 2001: A Space Odyssey or Clockwork Orange, this historical drama, based off of the 19th-century novel by William Makepeace Thackeray, is exquisite. And though the story is an engaging one, it’s the visuals that stand out — the way Kubrick captured the picturesque quality of the novel, while heightening the characters through clever design, lighting, and camera techniques.
It’s not just the vast landscapes and the jarring, bumpy close-ups — the lighting in this film is particularly striking. “I have always tried to light my films to simulate natural light; in the daytime using the windows actually to light the set, and in night scenes the practical lights you see in the set,” Kubrick said in an interview about the film. “This approach has its problems when you can use bright electric light sources, but when candelabras and oil lamps are the brightest light sources which can be in the set, the difficulties are vastly increased. Prior to Barry Lyndon, the problem has never been properly solved.” To get a look behind what makes the cinematography of this film so striking, this short video from CinemaTyler does an excellent exploration:
While Kubrick may have created films that define the modern canon, don’t overlook some of his lesser-known work. For the cinematography alone, Barry Lyndon is worth a second look.