In the midst of the Catholic/Protestant wars of the 16th century, a woman marries against her wishes and tries to put her husband’s cousin out of her mind; she’s successful until they encounter one another at Court.
I love period films with focused attention to detail. I’m a sucker for unrequited love. And, okay, I might also have a thing for movies where girls are forced to marry against their will, and find passion and romance. It didn’t quite work out that way in The Princess of Montpensier. This film, like Lady Jane, is based on a true story: Marie de Mézières (Mélanie Thierry) is engaged to a nice-enough cousin of hers, Mayenne de Guise; the only thing she looks forward to about the marriage is that it will keep her in close contact with his brother, Henri de Guise (Gaspard Ulliel), a bad boy hottie with whom she has intense chemistry. Unfortunately for her, along comes the Duke of Montpensier, who convinces her father that his son the Prince (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet) is a much better match (and that the de Guises suck), and the engagement is broken and a new one formed. After the wedding, everyone stands around and listens while the marriage is consummated behind the bed curtains.
Almost immediately upon the newlywed’s arrival to their home, the Prince is called away to soldier, and leaves Marie in the care of his dear friend and mentor, the Comte of Chabannes (Lambert Wilson), with instructions to teach her the ways of the court, so she will impress when they are inevitably called to audience with the King and Queen. After a particularly gory battle that compromised values he didn’t even know he had, the Comte deserted and swore not to fight again; while the Prince harbors the Comte at his estate, the Comte looks after the Princess and teaches her some poetry. They grow to be friends and she confides in him about her past love for Henri. The count falls for her, too. And then, guess what; so does the dashing Duke of Anjou (Raphaël Personnaz).
Things I hated:
Marie had no redeeming qualities to inspire devotion from not one, not two, but four men–five, if you count her original fiance. She’s not particularly smart, kind, feisty or pious, merely self-centered. I guess she has nice enough penmanship. I know blond hair & blue eyes is perennially popular, but seriously, her potty mouth looks like she got hit in the face with a brick. She is totally unsympathetic, and gets what she deserves in the end.
Her whiny bitch of a husband
First, he was immature. Second, he was weak. Third, he looks like my cousin Jenn’s husband, and I found that extremely distracting, because every time I saw his face, I thought, “oh, look, it’s Doug!” Luckily, Doug has much more strength of character.
The pendulum pacing
The tedium was threefold: the affection of friendship/lust/friendship/lust with Henri; the back and forth from castle to court to castle; the war/truce/war peace. At over two hours, this is supposed to be a lush, romantic, period love pentagon got bogged down with too many characters and a myriad of subplots (another was the Prince’s waning mother and his peacocky father’s desire to be a social climber).
The swordfighting scenes were great (although, it was pretty predictable that the Duke’s and Prince’s friendly spar at the beginning predicated the nasty duel to come). The clothes were beyond beautiful. The battle scenes were delightfully gory, and the historical details accurate. The acting was decent–Lambert’s Comte was the best part of the film: he was confessor, mentor, and solider who paid the price for getting too entangled. I went in expecting PASSION, and all the good parts took place behind curtains or off screen. (Side note: gentlemen, it is never acceptable to use a women’s breast as a handle, as Henri casually does to Marie).
As we left the theater, I apologized to my boyfriend, who’d kindly accompanied me. “I’m sorry,” I said, “I thought that was going to be better than it was.”
“No, I LOVED it!” he said.
“Really?! What did you love about it?” I asked.
“The Princess!” he replied.
“What?! Not you too!” I said. “Well, you can’t have her, either.”