'The Princess of Montpensier': Lust and lavish costumes in 16th-century France

Melanie Thierry plays the daughter of a sniveling French nobleman forced into a marriage she does not want.
Melanie Thierry plays the daughter of a sniveling French nobleman forced into a marriage she does not want.
Posted: April 22, 2011

A version of this review appeared Oct. 22, 2010, when "The Princess of Montpensier" played at the Philadelphia Film Festival.

Sixteenth-century France, the slaughter of heretics in Paris, the bloody war between Catholics and Huguenots, and a bunch of guys who can't take their eyes off a girl named Marie.

In Bertrand Tavernier's striking wide-screen costume drama, The Princess of Montpensier, Melanie Thierry stars as the beautiful Marie de Mézières, daughter of a sniveling nobleman who forces her into a marriage she does not want. She's in love with the strapping Henri de Guise (Gaspard Ulliel), who happens to be her cousin and also happens to be handy with a sword. But after a good cop/bad cop talking-to by her parents, Marie dutifully weds the young prince, Philippe (Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet).

The couple's wedding night is attended by a veritable throng of servants and advisers, orchestrating and enabling and puttering about - and then a decent sort of marital relationship ensues. But Philippe is called off to battle and asks his former tutor, the Count Chabannes (Lambert Wilson, looking sad and sage), to teach Marie literature, poetry, and astronomy. Wouldn't you know, Chabannes falls hopelessly in love. And then there's the Duc d'Anjou (Raphael Personnaz), a foppish wag who brushes his tongue and makes no secret of his desires for Marie. No wonder poor Philippe is mad with jealousy!

The four men represent different facets of Marie's psychological makeup, and Tavernier, while evoking the 1500s in compelling and telling ways, is keen to examine his heroine's inner life. Thierry manages to convey that interior world; her performance is subtle and seductive.

Tavernier pulls all this off with elegance and style; his battle scenes are tough and bloody, his châteaus grand. A masked ball proves to be a terribly unwise setting for an illicit tryst, and things don't end well for several of Marie's admirers. But The Princess of Montpensier ends more than well enough for the audience's purposes.


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies.

 

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