The Lady And The Duke

The Lady And The Duke


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

The word that comes to mind, while watching Eric Rohmer's tribute to a courageous Scottish lady, is painterly. The exteriors look as if they have been taken off the walls of the Louvre. This is Paris during the Revolution, as seen by landscape artists of the time.

Grace Dalrymple (Lucy Russell) married Sir John Elliott, divorced him, became the Prince of Wales's mistress, bore him a child, before being whisked away to the French capital by Philippe, Duke of Orleans, (Jean-Claude Dreyfus), Louis XVI's cousin. By the early 1790s, their relationship has matured to that of a close friendship. She is a Royalist and remains faithful to the king. He is not.

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Seldom has a film that contains little overt violence felt so threatening. Played out in exquisitely designed interiors and strange evocations of an artistic cityscape, Rohmer implies The Terror, rather than indulging it.

As in Europe during the Nazi occupation, when aiding Jews carried a death sentence, Grace Elliott finds herself helping an injured aristocrat to escape the city. Once he was a protégé of the Duke, who now considers him an enemy. Her motives for risking her life for someone she doesn't even like is humanitarian. She cannot help herself. When faced with a fugitive, hounded by the mob, she acts instinctively and so puts herself in danger.

The film captures the ruling class's inability to comprehend irrational behaviour. Sympathy is a character trait, not something you learn. Grace's Scottish upbringing has trained her to expect bad weather, in politics as in love affairs. She gets on with it. Emotions can be healed, as when she falls out with the Duke over the death of the king and yet forgives him later, before his own fate is sealed.

Russell does not have the breeding, conveyed in Gainsborough's portrait of Grace Elliott, but reflects the spirit of a foreigner caught up by the atrocities of social cleansing. Dreyfus is superb. He has the charm, ease and toughness of a man born to privilege, who understands the mood of the times, while avoiding the flattery of his peers.

Reviewed on: 13 Feb 2002
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A Scottish aristocrat opposes her former lover during the French Revolution.
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Director: Eric Rohmer

Writer: Eric Rohmer, based on the Memoirs of Grace Elliott

Starring: Lucy Russell, Jean-Claude Dreyfus, Francois Marthouret, Leonard Cobiant, Caroline Morin, Alain Libolt

Year: 2001

Runtime: 125 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: France


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