Star rating – 8/10
This is a very handsomely made French period drama, set in sixteenth century France, and is based on a seventeenth century novel by Madame de La Fayette. It deals with issues of gender, religion, and honour, and has a backdrop of the blood thirsty and merciless wars between the French Catholics and the protestant Huguenots.
Marie de Mézières is a beautiful rich French young woman, who has been in love with her childhood sweetheart, the Duc of Guise, since she was a child. Played by Mélanie Thierry, Marie is impossibly lovely, and seems to enchant all men who set eyes on her. But she is not destined to marry the handsome scar faced young Guise, played with suitable aplomb by Gaspard Ulliel. Her father has other plans, and breaks off their understanding in favour of a more lucrative marriage to the jealous young Prince de Montpensier. And the course of this particular arranged love does not run anything like smoothly. Their marriage night bedroom scene was attended by about six other family members and courtiers, so they really didn’t have much chance.
The intrigue and heartache are handsomely played out in picturesque French countryside and castles. Marie tries to put her passions aside and be a dutiful wife, but she seems to unwittingly end up in hot water with every man who claps eyes on her. The Prince’s friend and old teacher the Comte de Chabannes is entrusted with Marie’s education whilst her husband is away fighting for the King. His repressed emotion and hidden depths are conveyed with great sensitivity by Lambert Wilson.
It may sound like a slightly predictable costume romance, but it is really anything but that, with a few delightful twists to the very engaging plot. Director Bertrand Tavernier brings out the deeper themes of the tale with great skill and flair. And to be fair, it’s always nice to see a bit of sword fighting for the honour of a fair maiden, especially when done with such taste and faithfulness to the period.