The Trial

Director: David Jones
Screenwriters: Harold Pinter

Institute History

  • 1993 Sundance Film Festival


K lived in a country with a legal constitution, there was universal peace, all the laws were in force; . . . He had always been inclined to take things easily, to believe in the worst only when the worst happened.

Such is the setting for this incredibly sumptuous production of Franz Kafka’s The Trial. To refresh your memories of the classic tale, Josef K (Kylie MacLachlan) is a senior clerk at a leading Prague bank when he is arrested at his boarding house on the morning of his thirtieth birthday. No charge is specified, and he is free to carry on his life, but a show has appeared on the horizon. Summoned to a hearing in a closed-off room in an unfamiliar part of the city, K. rails against the authority of those who have accused him, but is still left under the threat of unspecified charges.

Guide by his uncle, he ask help from “the lawyer” (Jason Robards), who remarks on the interest his case has generated, and undertakes a mission of vindication. K.’s growing concern does not prevent him, however, from pursuing the layer’s mistress (he attempted a similar seduction of his landlady and the court usher’s libidinous wife earlier). K. makes other attempts to influence the judges in his case, including the use of a court painter who is known for his ability to affect cases, but none of the prescribed options result in a dismissal of the case. His final meeting, somewhat by happenstance with a priest (Anthony Hopkins), clarifies his choices and leads to an ultimate resolution.

Rarely are filmic adaptations this spectacularly accomplished. The performances are superb, and the art direction, cinematography and costuming are equally outstanding. Pinter’s adaptation and Jones’s establishment of a tone and vision make the story as contemporary and relevant as ever. The extraordinary talent that has created this work makes it a truly worthwhile experience.

— Geoffrey Gilmore

Screening Details

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