But that’s just part one of the “Barry Lyndon” story: “By What Means Redmond Barry Acquired the Style and Title of Barry Lyndon.” Part two will necessarily be the character’s fall, the “Misfortunes and Disasters” that befall him.
The regal, dignified tone of the text characterizes the voice-over in the film, the proper English of Narrator Michael Hordern. The movie has such a dryly historical tone that the voiceover becomes another kind of joke, an ironic counterpoint to its hero’s striving and recklessness. Unlike the electric, friendly narration of Ray Liotta in “Goodfellas,” Hordern’s work is cold and dispassionate. It solved a “cumbersome” problem for Kubrick.
Where Thackeray’s novel was told from Barry’s perspective and found humor in all of his unreliability, the movie incorporates a third-person POV that, on the surface, reiterates what we see. But digging in reveals the lies in which Barry surrounds himself.
When the camera first lays eyes on Lady Lyndon, for instance, the Narrator gives a brief description of her, her husband, and her son Lord Bullingdon (Dominic Savage as a child, Leon Vitali as an adult) that mentions their closeness, something we soon see to be a major understatement.
After Barry’s seduction of Lady Lyndon, the Narrator says simply, “To make a long story short, six hours after they met, her ladyship was in love.” But Lord Lyndon is more direct, accusing Barry of cuckolding him and screaming at him under powdered makeup. Barry’s provocations of the old man lead to him dying. The Narrator effectively gives him an obituary, claiming that the Lord has left behind a title.
He also all but ignores the miserable mood that has overtaken Lady Lyndon and Lord Bullingdon, noting only that she was “rarely happy.”