When you see something is a TV Movie it is easy to have low expectations especially when it is a retelling of a classic story which has already been adapted brilliantly to the big screen. But then the 1982 version of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" is not your normal sort of TV movie, it is a big production featuring a cast which includes Anthony Hopkins, Derek Jacobi, David Suchet and even John Gielgud. Now I am not a reader of classic literature and so can't tell you how close to the novel this version stays, what I can say is that when it comes to the ending it follows a similar route to the 1939 version of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" which starred Charles Laughton and Maureen O'Hara delivering a slightly happier ending than that of the novel. And unlike the epic 1939 version there are times when this 1982 TV movie seems to skim on the build up in order to get to what is actually quite a spectacular ending.
Having been arrested twice for dancing in the streets, attractive gypsy Esmeralda (Lesley-Anne Down) is taken to Dom Claude Frollo (Derek Jacobi - The Odessa File) at Notre Dame who rather than send her to the Bastille offers her sanctuary having found himself unexpectedly aroused by this beauty. But on realising Frollo's real motives for providing sanctuary Esmeralda runs and in the following kafuffle Frollo's ward, Quasimodo (Anthony Hopkins - The Elephant Man), is arrested and sentenced to be publicly flogged and humiliated. At the same time Esmeralda meets two other men, the dashing Phoebus (Robert Powell) who is a serial seducer and poet Pierre Gringoire (Gerry Sundquist) who she agrees to marry to save him from being hung by Clopin Trouillefou (David Suchet) and his band of thieves. But when Esmeralda meets Phoebus in secret Frollo's lust and jealousy leads him to try and kill Phoebus and in doing so leaving Esmeralda to be arrested for his attempted murder which she is sentenced to be hung for.
So as already mentioned I haven't read Victor Hugo's classic novel which is the source of this and other movies so I can't say how accurate it is but having watched the 1939 version I can say it stays quite close to that version especially when it comes to the ending which I know differs from the novel in a few ways. Now whilst this 1982 version is no cheap production and features some remarkable sets and costumes when it comes to the story it feels like it is in a rush to get to the finale. What that means is that the first half doesn't always flow and lacks those little elements which nicely join one scene to another such as the opening which centres on the Festival of Fools. Having said that if you are studying "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" for school and are too lazy to read the novel then this version delivers the basics quite nicely just remember the ending differs.
But whilst the first half of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" feels like it is in a hurry the second half is a triumph and I can sort of understand why they garner a lot of focus on it. Now we do have a difference again and we don't have Quasimodo swinging down to rescue Esmeralda after she is sentenced to be hung, we get him climbing down and carrying her off which is a little disappointing. But then when later on Quasimodo is defending the Cathedral from those he thinks are coming to take Esmeralda away the visuality of the scenes are brilliant with flames cascading down from the gargoyles being just one of the many eye catching elements.
Now I have already mentioned that for a TV movie "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" has a surprising cast and to add to those names already mentioned there is also Robert Powell, Nigel Hawthorne, David Kelly and Lesley-Anne Down who makes for an attractive Esmeralda. But this is a movie which belongs to two actors and a make-up team; yes the first of those is Anthony Hopkins who thanks to the skills of the make-up department is unrecognizable as Quasimodo. Hopkins performance is also as striking as his look and he really comes into his own during the second half of the movie. And then there is Derek Jacobi as Dom Claude Frollo and Jacobi makes the Arch Deacon a twisted character full of lust for Esmeralda but also jealous and vicious in his hurt when it comes to her rejection.
What this all boils down to is that don't let the fact that this version of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" is a TV movie because it is a surprisingly good adaptation. It is a version where the focus really centres on the second, more dramatic second half but the acting especially from Anthony Hopkins and Derek Jacobi is brilliant from start to finish.