Editor; Australia (@Kwenton)

Advertised primarily as a complex love triangle amidst the Christian-French wars, Marie de Mezières forcefully marries a suitable heir but is deeply unhappy and quietly torn between him and other prominent men in her life.


I have become quite enamoured with period dramas as of late. The sweeping epic romanticism of them is definitely an addictive factor that makes the genre stand out strongly, so I was excited to finally see the critically praised French production The Princess of Montpensier, as it has just been released here on DVD, foregoing the cinemas. Director Bertrand Tavernier has definitely treated the genre without the usual clichéd care, and the result is a more realistic sixteenth century medieval setting. There are accurate sounds (gun fire for instance), settings and the whole period is not sensationalized. It has a good sweeping score, and although touted as epic and romantic, The Princess of Montpensier is anything but.


It begins more akin to a scene from Kubrick's Barry Lynch; in the heat of battle, one soldier Comte de Chabannes (Lambert Wilson, and easily the best part of this film) is outcast from society as he has left his army to join the enemy, and then left them too. He travels on the road where he is robbed of his belongings, much like Barry Lyndon; only to be rescued in a fit of happenstance by a man he formerly mentored Philippe de Montpensier (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet). From there the film focuses on Marie de Mezières (Mélanie Thierry, who just drifts throughout the film) who is forced, under political pretences to marry Philippe. She is in love with her cousin, the roguish Henri de Guise (Gaspard Ulliel). Eventually Philippe is called to go to war and Marie is left to be mentored by the Comte, it is here she truly understands the matters of the heart and the matters of the court.


All of this sounds intriguing and exciting, but it is instead very dull and emotionless. The Princess of Montpensier is devoid of any feeling and each actor, save for the Comte's extreme opposition of war, and lack any real convictions. The film is given a heavy political focus, but combined with little else; this just makes it a slowly paced numbing experience.


However Tavernier deserves commendation for his treatment of the period. The sixteenth century certainly comes with some very unexpected and unromantic twists and turns, including the consummation of Marie and Philippes marriage, which is watched over and live commented upon from the families, a noble woman who is carried out to the cart, still in her chair, a scene which focuses on tongue cleaning, the queen of London's throne almost a satire of the royal family, the news vendor with his cart and bizarre goods and the emphasis on speaking Polish. All of these elements are used well and are fun and unexpected, but still do not save this ultimately dire production. Are these historically accurate rituals? Perhaps, but they lack any gravitas that lifts the film.

One element that is absolutely crucial to period pieces is the costume design; unfortunately The Princess of Montpensier falls short here, there have been more intricate, detailed and accurate costumes in television, and most period dramas get it right, somehow this production has failed to capture the clothes worn in this time and they often come off as cheap looking. Another element that fails to impress is the combat choreography and swordplay, it is wholly amateur and almost embarrassing. As the princess obsessed and is in despair about her situation another man becomes obsessed with her the Duke d'Anjou (Raphaël Personnaz, the French Johnny Depp), who does not fit in with the story, characters, intrigue or romance, what little of it there is. Also in the princesses despair she rambles with Comte philosophical inklings about life and it is all very meandering.


This undertoned drama for her affections continues and the men get into some conflict, which is never properly resolved. It all picks up when all the men are under the one roof but this is short lived. The Princess of Montpensier ends tragically, but it is such a black hole of emotion, little affection or sympathy can be felt.


The Princess of Montpensier is a frustrating film; some elements work very well but most of it is an incoherent mess and breaks some lore of the genre to some success, but mostly failure.

The Princess of Montpensier

  • Bertrand Tavernier
  • Jean Cosmos
  • Madame de La Fayette (short story)
  • François-Olivier Rousseau
  • Bertrand Tavernier
  • Mélanie Thierry
  • Lambert Wilson
  • Gaspard Ulliel
  • Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet
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Bertrand TavernierJean CosmosMadame de La FayetteFrançois-Olivier RousseauMélanie ThierryLambert WilsonGaspard UllielGrégoire Leprince-RinguetActionDramaHistory

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