out of Five
Running time: 139
Engaging and enjoyable French swashbuckler with superb fight sequences, a strong script and terrific performances from its excellent cast, though it does drag a little in the middle section.
What's it all about?
Directed by veteran French cineaste Bertrand Tavernier, The Princess of Montpensier is based on a 17th century short story by Madame de Lafayette and is set in 1562 France, during the Wars of Religion. Melanie Thierry plays Marie, a beautiful young heiress who's in love with her childhood sweetheart, handsome warrior Henri de Guise (Gaspard Ulliel) but is forced to marry Henri's friend Prince Philippe (Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet), son of the Duke of Montpensier (Michel Vuillermoz).
While Henri and the Prince go off to fight for the Duke of Anjou (Raphael Personnaz), Marie is left in the care of Philippe's former tutor and mentor Chabannes (Lambert Wilson), who tries to advise and protect her, while also clearly falling in love with her. At the same time, Philippe becomes jealous of Marie's continued feelings for Henri and things get even more complicated when the Duke of Anjou takes a fancy to her as well.
Thierry is superb as Marie, generating strong chemistry with each of her four suitors but especially with Wilson, whose relationship with her is much more cerebral and traditionally romantic (notably the scene in which he teaches her about the stars), even if it's never sexual. Wilson, in turn, is terrific – his character is essentially the moral heart of the story – and there's strong support from Ulliel and Leprince-Ringuet, while Personnaz has a good line in manipulative charm.
Tavernier's direction is assured throughout, ticking off all the expected swashbuckling tropes (properly staged swordfights, some stunning battle sequences, lots of corsetry) while keeping everything grounded in a believable reality: the castles look lived in, for example, while the battles essentially degenerate into mud-soaked punch-ups. There's also a surprising amount of nudity and sex, because this is a French swashbuckler, after all.
There are several memorable scenes (the witnessed wedding night scene is particularly uncomfortable) and Tavernier creates a powerfully tense atmosphere filled with swirling emotional intrigue, while the script's themes are surprisingly modern for a story written in 1662.
In fact, the only real problem with the film is that it's about twenty minutes or so too long and it drags a little in the middle section as a result.
Impressively directed and sharply written, The Princess of Montpensier is an enjoyable French swashbuckler with a strong script and terrific performances from Melanie Thierry, Lambert Wilson and Gaspard Ulliel. Recommended.
The Princess of Montpensier (tbc)