|Article first published as Movie Review: The Princess of Montpensier – Not a Perfect Film, But Worth Watching on Blogcritics.|
Not to proselytize for Netflix, but they have refined their film categories to include excellent sub-categories for “Period Pieces” and “Royalty,” to the delight of this History Lady. First up under “Royalty” queue was “Le Princesse de Montpensier,” a story about love and jealousy set in civil war-ridden France in 1567.
Against the background of religious wars is the story of French noblewoman Marie de Mezieres. Marie is infatuated with her cousin, Henri, Duc de Guise yet is given in an arranged marriage to Philippe, Prince de Montpensier. At first she is reconciled to the marriage and settles into life in rural France where she is tutored by Philippe’s old teacher – Francois, Count de Chabannes – learning to read, write and studying philosophy. In the process, Chabannes develops an unrequited love her.
Philippe returns from the war, she tries to make him happy, but he’s a jealous sort and when the Duc de Anjou visits with her former beau Henri de Guise in tow, his flirtatious behavior sets Philippe into a rage. The more Philippe’s jealousy grows, the more Marie succumbs to Henri’s amorous attentions. Henri’s a soldier, most comfortable when he is battling for something – in this case her affections in a rivalry between Philippe, himself and the Duc de Anjou. Marie, condemned by her husband as a flirt, fancies herself in love with Henri and imagines a future with him.
In a film where everyone desires her, no one really loves her except Chabannes – who loves her enough to want to see her happy with someone else. He helps her spend a night with Henri before she’s sent back to the country in disgrace – and earns himself dismissal from the Montpensier household. He rides away, and is later killed in a massacre of Huguenots, but has left a letter for Marie, warning her of Henri’s vacuuousness. She does not listen and leaves her husband, hoping Henri will ditch his fiancé for her. But he does not, Henri is exactly who Chabannes said he was.
Marie ends up without a lover, a husband or an admirer, having given up on love. It is not clear if she’s given it all up and will turn to learning, or religion, but in the last scene she realizes that Chabannes love was the truest of them all. I struggled with the ending, wanting more for Marie than exile and solitude.
What I love about French period films (Seraphine, Tous les Matins du Monde and La Reine Margot are some of my favorites) is their pace – it is slower and more thoughtful than many US—or even UK—dramas, allowing a respite from action to consider the character’s inner conflict.
This film has incredibly beautiful costumes and set design – authentic to the period, and the location shoots are in exquisite country (no CGI here!). The acting is overall very good–except for the role of Philippe. Coupled with a nice glass or two of Merlot, it’s a good evening’s entertainment.
“Le Princess de Montpensier”
- Director: Bertrand Tavernier
- Stars: Mélanie Thierry (Marie), Lambert Wilson (Chabannes) and Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet (Philippe), Gaspard Ulliel (Henri) and Raphaël Personnaz (Duc de Anjou)
- The Princess of Montpensier ~ (France, 2010) ~ Netflix Stream (chazzw.wordpress.com)
- Mark Kermode’s DVD round-up (guardian.co.uk)
- Heat stalks another Cannes hottie! (heatworld.com)
- A History of historical fiction (ihrconference.wordpress.com)
- IFFI to Honor French Director Bertrand Tavernier With Lifetime Achievement Award (ibtimes.com)