Take a Drink: whenever somebody treats Margot terribly
Take a Drink: whenever the possibility of war is mentioned
Take a Drink: for Catholic and Protestant antipathy
Take a Drink: poison!
Take a Drink: whenever Catherine de’Medici does something dastardly
Do a Shot: for main character deaths
By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
Besides introducing me to a ton of Korean films, my wife’s got a surprisingly exhaustive knowledge of mid-90s costume dramas, which I can also get behind.
This… not so much.
Her latest suggestion was Queen Margot, a 1994 French dramatization of the French Catholic/Protestant cold war of the 1500s that finally erupted in one of history’s most horrific massacres- St. Bartholomew’s Day. We begin as Margot (Isabelle Adjani), daughter of the scheming Catherine de’Medici (Virna Lisi) and sister of the current Catholic King of France, Charles IX (Jean-Hugues Anglade), weds Henri de Bourbon (Daniel Auteuil), the Protestant King of Navarre. They both recognize it’s not for love, but purely political reasons, and pursue their own amours, but celebration soon turns to horror when a pretense engineered by Catherine results in the massacre of thousands (and perhaps tens of thousands) of Protestants. Margot shields one handsome, wounded Protestant soldier (Vincent Perez), however, and a torrid and dangerous affair begins.
The source material is one of Alexandre Dumas’s lesser-known novels, La Reine Margot, and screenwriter Daniele Thompson and director Patrice Chereau do a good job of translating to the screen the Machiavellian twists and turns of Catherine’s attempts to consolidate European power for her three sons as well as the positively Shakespearean fallout of those machinations. It’s a convoluted plot full of sex and power struggles, and the French court is a hotbed of both. It’s also an interesting and irregular portrayal of the role of religion at the time. Certain… subcultures of the internet like to present religion as the root of all societal ills, but this film, and history, show that the ruling class viewed it as just another means to an end, changed or discarded when politically convenient, just another pawn in the one true game, Power.
George R.R. Martin ain’t got shit on history.
Isabelle Adjani can do regal, aloof, and sexy in her sleep, and delivers all of them here in spades, as well as a hidden but growing empathy and desperation. Virna Lisi may be even better, though, a veritable Mother MacBeth- cold, colorless, almost ghoulish. As you’d expect, the set design and costuming are impeccable, especially in the lavish wedding scene, and Chereau manages some stunning setpieces, particularly the horrific, almost Apocalyptic aftermath of the massacre.
As good as the production design is, though, the cinematography often fails to present it in the best light. It’s disappointingly flat and rote. Also, there some bad dubbing… of French lines to French mouths, which just looks weird.
While Thompson does a good job with the nefarious plotting, she can’t write romance for shit. Margot and her hunky lover are given some hilariously overwrought dialogue, like this gem: “I want to see the image of my death in my pleasure.” Yeah, Alexandre Dumas didn’t write that. As a whole the romance just feels like a dull, borderline sleazy diversion from the interesting stuff happening in the main plot.
“Ravish me… okay, even I’m bored with this.”
The main drawback is that you kind of need to do your research to properly appreciate the film- unless you’re French, maybe, or just super-familiar with Medieval politics. In particular, there’s a scene where a soothsayer tells Catherine the fate of her three sons and the Crown which felt like the prelude to even more Shakespearean ironies and comeuppance, but the movie abruptly ends before we see the other two thirds of that. It’s disappointing even if you do know all the interesting history they skipped.
Queen Margot is a brutal history lesson, a compelling true life game of thrones, and a hackneyed romance all rolled into one. Two thirds of it is quite interesting.