Release Date (UK DVD) – 31st October 2011
Certificate – 15
Country – France
Director – Bertrand Tevernier
Runtime – 139 mins
Starring – Mélanie Thierry, Gaspard Ulliel, Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet and Lambert Wilson
From 1562 until 1598, France was in a state of religious warfare, as a violent and bloody conflict raged between the Catholics and Protestants (Huguenots). The war provides the backdrop to the ill-fated love story of The Princess of Montpensier, which is based on the book of the same name by Madame de La Fayette. Whilst the question “Who is your allegiance to?” would hold religious significance to those involved in battle, it holds a different significance for Marie de Mezieres (Thierry), the Princess of Montpensier.
Marie is in love with Henri de Guise (Ulliel). They’ve grown up together with the hope of getting married. Their plans are ruined, however, when her father announces that she is to marry the Prince of Montpensier (Leprince-Ringuet). Along with his old mentor, the Comte de Chabannes (Wilson), Marie and her new husband move far away from any ‘distractions’, where their relationship ceases to progress. As Marie attracts more suitors, she has to decide if she will stray, or remain faithful to the husband she doesn’t love.
The film contains some stunning shots of the French countryside. The small castle in which Marie resides plays host to beautiful views. Several scenes show a cover of smoke above the ground, ensuring the viewer knows that even though the love story is at the forefront of the action, the civil unrest is still ongoing in the background. Unusually, there are also subtle elements of film noir present in the way that the light floods in the windows, capturing the dust particles in its path.
The violence of the war is blended well with the love story. Whilst the subject matter is constant throughout the course of the film, it is only presents itself visually in a few scenes. The film begins and ends with a sense of violence, focussing on the Comte de Chabannes. His character becomes key to how events unfold, and the focus sometimes gives the sense that he is more central to the plot than Marie.
It’s not hard for Marie’s character to draw sympathy, which is in most part down to Thierry’s performance. She uses her facial expressions well to convey her confliction between her husband and Henri. Her character is somewhat similar to that of fellow fictional French character, Madame Bovary. She receives an abundance of attention from the men around her, but unlike Gustave Flaubert’s creation, she is morally stronger in her actions. There is virtually no chemistry between Marie and the Prince, which is what makes their troubled relationship all the more believable. The Prince constantly complains that Marie never shows him affection, but he never shows her any either, opting to hug Chabannes before he leaves for war rather than her. Wilson puts in a great performance as Chabannes, playing the role with a controlled intensity and wisdom that makes it clear why the Prince looks to him as a father figure.
The Princess of Montpensier is an interesting love story, containing some beautiful shots accompanied by a historically significant backdrop. The extras include a ‘making of’, entitled ‘Bertrand Tavernier: Portrait en Mouvement’. The crew boast about how hard working and devoted he is. There are interviews with the director, writers, and editors that accompany the behind the scenes footage. The film’s historical context was clearly important to Tavernier, who is repeatedly shown giving history lessons to the cast to help their performance and make it more realistic; an element which proves to be a success throughout the course of the film.
The Princess of Montpensier is released on DVD and Blu-ray on 31st October – order it here