The aesthetic of French countryside and grey stone castles is brought back to life, becoming timeless monuments rather than tiresome, vacuous stereotypes.
The Princess of Montpensier is a period romance-cum-tragedy which follows the jaunty path of Marie Montpensier (Mélanie Thierry) on her journey of personal, philosophical and romantic discovery. Set against the turbulent backdrop of 17th Century conflict between the Huguenots and Catholics, the film dramatises rivalries both on the battlefield and in the bedroom.
Based on the 1662 Madam de Lafayette story of the same name, the film is a dramatisation of the rivalries that were raging at the time both on the battlefield and in ballrooms. The main conflict between the Huguenots and the Catholics rages on primarily as a backdrop, providing a thrust of momentum underneath the more domesticated foreground of misdirected romance and high society scandal. It’s a pleasant juxtaposition and one that prevents the film from becoming prematurely stale.
As the film begins we witness a pregnant woman being killed in the heat of passion by The Count of Chabannes (Lambert Wilson) this opens the counts eyes to the vulgar nature of war and he leaves his life as a soldier to pursue a life of virtue. This places him as an outsider, with one side viewing him as a traitor and the other as a deserter. His alienation is reflected in Marie, who he soon becomes a tutor of having been taken in by a well-connected former pupil of his.
Marie is a pawn in two aristocratic families' game of power and money; arranged marriage is quickly on the cards and she is then locked between forces beyond her control, most notably her lusting for a man who is not her husband.
The film’s social commentary is interesting, supposing that although there is a war raging over differing theological doctrine, the real power lies in money and politics. It's clear that veteran director Bertrand Tavernier has set out to show the potency and relevance of a classic love story and that period romance is by no means a dead genre. On this evidence, he has a point.
The aesthetic of French countryside and grey stone castles is brought back to life, rendered as timeless monuments rather than tiresome, vacuous stereotypes.
Tavernier is not particularly well known to disappoint.
A well rounded exposition of the passions and the ensuing tangle they can create.
Something which, despite it’s length, seems quite appealing for a second watch.