Everyone loves a good swordfight. You only have to look at the success of the likes of the Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise to see that. But Johnny Depp’s foppish prancing aside, the classic swashbuckling genre has gone somewhat neglected in recent years with audiences being more interested in spandex-clad superheroes and twinkling pseudo-vampires to be distracted by a zippy sword and a theatrical flourish.
The Princess Of Montpensier is a valiant attempt to revive a flagging genre as it’s an enjoyable romantic romp through Medieval France.
Set in 1562 France, during the Wars of Religion, Melanie Thierry plays Marie, a beautiful heiress desperately in love with Henri de Guise – a noble and celebrated war hero and her childhood sweetheart. Their love is not to be as she’s forced by her father to marry Henri’s good friend Prince Philippe, the son of the Duke Of Montpensier for political influence.
With war looming, Henri and Philippe are dispatched to fight for the Duke Of Anjou (Raphael Personnaz, sporting the most dashing goatee in recent memory) and so Marie is left in the charge of the Prince’s former tutor, the wise Comte de Chabannes (Lambert Wilson) but while trying to educate her, he too falls for her charms. Philippe eventually becomes frustrated that she doesn’t love him and clearly still pines for Henri and the situation becomes even more precarious when the Duke of Anjou decides that he would like her for his own.
TPOM looks incredible and is a lavish triumph of set design. Everything from the grubby castles (these are working castles, not ivory-towered Disney meringues) to the beautiful French countryside is wonderful to behold. The costumes are similarly impressive; a parade of luscious silks, brightly coloured frock coats, pearl earrings and more meticulously crafted facial hair than Monsieur Gilette could dream of.
Its populated with familiar swashbuckling tropes – epic swordfights, battlefield heroism, duelling for honour, willowy women pining away for their lost loves (or trying not to faint from rib-crushing corsetry – sometimes it’s hard to tell) and the whole affair is played admirably straight. And for a film which has a plot which has the potential to be extremely confusing, director Bernard Tavernier has managed to craft a surprisingly lucid and clear tale with his youthful cast.
Melanie Thierry is appropriately stunning for a woman who inflames men’s passions wherever she walks (in some lights, she looks like a more healthy looking Kate Moss) and she has great chemistry with all four of her potential love interests. Lambert Wilson also excels as Chabanne – caught between his duty to his employer and an all-consuming love for his pupil.
But despite its sumptuousness, TPOM could have benefitted from a more rigorous editing process. It’s at least 30 minutes too long and consequently the middle section is ponderous and meandering; it’s easy to get lost in the scenery while the dialogue drifts past unnoticed. Still, if you haven’t had your swordfight quota filled this year and wisely gave Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides a wide berth, TPOM will be a welcome distraction.