Set in a French boarding school, Les Diaboliques tells the tale of the deeply unpleasant headmaster, Mr Delasalle, his mousey, down-trodden wife and his glamorous mistress. They all live and work at the school, where the headmaster’s affair is common knowledge, as is the cruelty with which he treats his wife. He doesn’t actually seem to be all that nice to his mistress, either.
Ground down by his perpetual bullying, world-weary and ill, his wife is persuaded by his mistress that they can end both their troubles by bumping off the no-good headmaster. The determined and powerful mistress Nicole Horner (played by Simone Signoret) and wife Christina Delasalle then proceed to plot the headmaster’s murder, right down to the smallest detail.
Suffice to say these things rarely go according to plan in these kind of cinematic scenarios, and that’s as much as I want to say about the plot because you really should see it for yourself.
Les Diaboliques is very slow to get going, and I wasn’t sure I could stick with it but I was glad I did because when the pay off eventually comes, it really is worth the wait. It really is a great story, and having seen it now, I’m sure it was the inspiration for many thrillers that have come since. It’s atmospheric and beautifully shot with understated performances from a universally top-notch cast, too. And there are a couple of scenes in particular that really will stay with me – it’s genuinely chilling in places – and it’s reputation as a classic is well deserved.