Keswick Film Club - Reviews - The Princess of Montpensier

Reviews - The Princess of Montpensier

The Princess of Montpensier

Reviewed By John Stakes

The Princess of Montpensier
The Princess of Montpensier
Now into his eighth decade veteran French director Bertrand Tavernier shows no sign of cinematic fatigue in his portrayal of sixteenth century life in France in the rousing romantic drama “Princess of Montpensier” shown last Sunday.

This, his thirty second film is much more than a period costume drama though. It is a thoughtful, intelligent and serious historical piece with such an attention to detail that its historical accuracy is rather assumed.

Tavernier grew up in the era when John Ford and Jean Renoir were at the height of their craft, and came to love Italian and American film-making generally. These influences are clearly evident in the sweeping landscapes with men on horseback, darkly lit interiors, and the whole fast flowing spectacle. The battle scenes had a rough hewn authenticity about them as Tavernier eschewed modern reliance on CGI.

The story-line is potentially complicated as the princess finds herself the object of attention from no less than four males during her struggle between passion and duty in mid 1560s rural France where religious conflict between Catholics and Huguenots rages. Princess Marie is in love with the rakish Duke de Guise but is wedded off by her father to Philipe, Prince of Montpensier for political reasons. When her husband is called away to battle Marie is placed in the care of aging Count Chabannes who is now tired of being a Huguenot killing machine and has converted to pacifism.

His protective role in keeping the princess safe from the machinations of a corrupt and dangerous court headed by Catherine de Medici with a passion for astrology is compromised by his own desires towards the princess.

Tavernier handles the plot development expertly and we are caught up both in the political and social intrigues, and the dilemma of the princess in having no right to decide her own future. It would have been tempting for Tavernier to stray from the basics of the 16th century short story anonymously published by Madame de la Fayette to give us a modern spin on 20th century feminism, but Tavernier avoids this trap and adheres to the social rigours and etiquette of the period to preserve the film’s integrity.

Princess Marie learns to adjust to a loveless life where duty and obligation prevail over desire to an extent which, for a time, appears to indicate that her conversion to obedience is complete to the point of contentment (“I am cured of passion” she says). But no romantic drama would be complete without fate’s twisting intervention as the political intrigue and the agenda of each of her suitors intertwine to break her heart when she tries to regain the path of desire.

The acting from a large cast including Melanie Thiery (Princess Marie), Gaspard Ulliel (Duke de Guise) and Gregoire le Prince-Ringuet (Prince de Montpensier) is exemplary and the supporting cast lives up to its name. Tavernier marshalls everyone with his customary assured hand, and the intelligent and witty screenplay from three contributors including Tavernier heightens the freshly minted period feel.

Perhaps the film was a tad too long and began to run out of steam but in the main there was lots of hearty swash and not a little unbuckle to maintain momentum. Tavernier’s first film the 1974 “The Clockmaker” catapulted him to instant fame when it won the Silver Bear Special Jury Prize at the Berlin Film Festival. Over his career he moved from mysteries to films with a social commentary into which category this film falls. On this evidence Tavernier’s career has still along way to go before he rides off into a John Ford sunset and the appreciative Keswick audience enjoyed almost every one of its one hundred and forty minutes.

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