It takes a special kind of director to translate scribe Joseph Conrad's work to the big screen. Some succeed in capturing Conrad's eclectic stories and immortalising his eccentric characters but others mistakenly try to simplify his rich writing and what is left is little but a meaningless mess. Unfortunately, Peploe's attempt at Victory falls into the latter category.
The farce begins in 1913 in the Dutch East Indies with Captain Davidson (Bill Patterson) sailing around a seemingly deserted island. His narration explains that island resident Axel Heyst (Dafoe) hasn't been seen for years following the disappearance of his coal-mining partner. But Davidson still scours the island once a month and on this particular trip, Heyst is waiting for him and hitches a ride to the nearest port.
Back in civilisation, Heyst books into the Hotel Schomberg and makes arrangements to collect his late father's furniture from storage - the only motive for his visit. Meanwhile, the hotel manager has a gripe with Heyst but is busy with his other residents - a woman's orchestra run by Ziangiacomo (Simon Callow). The heavily painted ladies are effectively prostitutes and during one of their entertainment evenings Heyst meets violin-playing Alma (Jacob).
Persuading Heyst that the hotelier plans to buy her from Ziangiacomo, Alma begs him to take her away from her unbearable existence. So they escape to his remote island but their ensuing love affair is short lived as the hotelier has tricked two con men (Neill and Sewell) into wrecking Heyst's tranquil life.
The convoluted plot and ridiculous characters - especially Neill's misogynist, homosexual, opium-smoking gambler - lack any form of Conrad's credibility. Granted, the acting is sure-footed but the dialogue is forced and the narration is annoying and condescending.
Peploe - a longtime Bernardo Bertolucci collaborator - is way off the mark with his adaptation: the only thumbs-up going to the costume designer and the cinematographer because at least they provide something attractive to look at.