The Princess Of Montpensier

The Princess Of Montpensier

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Conflicted allegiance, torn emotions and the dangers of fundamentalism are the sort of topics bandied about by many a modern war film. Veteran filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier uses them in a period setting to bring a breath of fresh air to what is frequently an all-too-corseted and dusty genre. That his film's themes have relevance to the present is no coincidence but he leaves it to the viewer to draw the parallels while concentrating on telling this tale of boddice-busting romance and swashbuckling intrigue.

The action is set against a backdrop of the religious wars in 1560s France, where deadly skirmishes between the Catholics and Protestant Hugenots are commonplace. Embodying the weariness of war is the Lambert Wilson's Comte de Chabannes, who after an act of cruelty he can't reconcile, finds himself both a traitor and a deserter, trusted by neither side. A chance encounter with former pupil the Prince of Montpensier (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet) offers him hope but both of them are soon to find that it is affairs of the heart can cause as much grief as those of the sword.

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Emotions are low on the list of priorities in a kingdom where marriage is the key to allegiances, larger plots of land and power. And so it comes to pass that the young and beautiful Marie de Mezieres (Mélanie Thierry) and the prince are thrust into a marriage neither of them is looking for in order to cement a relationship between their parents. Women are certainly chattles here - with Marie's burgeoning romance with the debonair and dangerous Henri de Guise (Gaspard Ulliel) of no consequence to her elders when money is at stake. And yet Tavernier and Jean Cosmos's adaptation of Madame La Fayette's novella paints a much more complex picture in which almost everyone, it seems, is a victim of circumstance.

What ensues is a gripping tale of skullduggery and dangerous liaisons as all who come into the orbit of Marie fall under her spell - a situation that she is essentially powerless to do anything about. Every type of love - from filial to unrequited and heart-racing lust - is explored against the backdrop of a kingdom where power falls to the very young and extremely hormonal.

The period detail is exquisite and engaging but put kept in the background where it belongs and Tavernier and Cosmos maintain a tight rein on the story, although the run-time is perhaps a little on the long side. The twisting narrative is rendered skilfully so that it is easy to follow even as allegiences and alliances shift, and there is plenty of space to revel in the complexity of the characters.

Theirry is excellent in the central role, giving Marie plenty of backbone but also allowing us to see her vulnerabilities. Ulliel, Leprince-Ringuet and Wilson, meanwhile, work a delicate tapestry of repression, desire and hot-headedness, so that our sympathies are torn in regard to who we want to get the girl. As for the girl herself, she is simultaneously property to be bought and sold and territory which needs to be won over. It is this sort of complexity - both of character and emotion - that keeps Tavernier's film gripping to the last.

Reviewed on: 03 Nov 2011
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A story of forbidden love set against the religious wars between Catholics and Protestants in the 16th century. Plus, read our with Bertrand Tavernier.
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