With ornate imagery reminiscent of paintings from the story's 18th century period, Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray's novel depicts the rise and fall of a sensitive rogue in the British aristocracy. Young Irishman Redmond Barry (Ryan O'Neal) leaves home to seek his fortune after apparently killing an English officer in a duel.
Through a series of mishaps and accidents, Barry winds up fighting with the Prussian army in the Seven Years' War under the command of Capt. Potzdorf (Hardy Kruger); at war's end, Potzdorf enlists Barry to spy on a shady Chevalier (Patrick Magee). Instead, Barry joins up with the Irish Chevalier to flee Prussia and live as gamblers among Europe's elite.
Wishing to climb even higher, Barry soon meets the beautiful Lady Lyndon (Marisa Berenson), marrying her for her fortune after her older titled husband dies.
Her son Lord Bullingdon (Leon Vitali), however, despises the upstart Barry, and, regardless of how his mother may feel, sees to it that the re-named Barry Lyndon will never be able to stake his claim to the entrenched aristocracy.
Coming after Kubrick's esteemed hits 2001 (1968) and A Clockwork Orange (1971), Barry Lyndon opened with high expectations and met with decidedly mixed responses to its restrained tone.
Even with Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Director (and wins for Cinematography, Art Direction, Costumes, and Adapted Score), Barry Lyndon was a box office failure, as mid-'70s audiences increasingly turned away from such narrative challenges as its epic length and muffled emotions.
Since then, Barry Lyndon has gained in stature, taking its place among the formidable artistic achievements of Kubrick's career.