IT IS reckoned men think about sex every couple of seconds. But thankfully they're not all on the level of the Marquis de Sade.

Set in post-Revolutionary France, Quills finds the demented Marquis (Geoffrey Rush) incarcerated in an asylum at the expense of his wife.

Alone in his sumptuously appointed cell, he scribbles his racy writings then passes them to Madeline (Kate Winslett), the buxom chambermaid who has become his muse, who delivers them to a publisher.

On the streets of gay Paree, the slim tomes sell like the proverbial warm buns before they are brought to the attention of the Emperor who orders an investigation into the purveyor of filth.

And so it is a brutal doctor (Michael Caine) is dispatched to the madhouse to take over treatment of the inmates from the benign priest (Joaquin Phoenix).

The marquis is singled out for special treatment, not least because his mind is razor sharp and his wit selfishly cutting. Madeline, meanwhile, exudes temptation, wafting forbidden fruit beneath the cleric's nose and teasing the marquis into providing her with more and more work, be it written in ink, wine and blood. Of course, it can't last and the walls come tumbling down in a grim conclusion that goes somewhat against the unsettlingly sexy, bawdy run of play.

Rush chews the scenery with the best of them as the marquis, managing to be both ribald and twistedly romantic.

Winslet's on-screen charms excuse her dodgy accent and Billie Whitelaw manages a telling cameo as her blind mother.

Caine and Phoenix are slightly stuttering but director Philip Kauffman has retained enough of the original stage fantasy's intellectual edge to carry the film through some of its more overcooked sequences.