Set in the year 1562, as France is ravaged by war (apparently the Catholics and Protestants aren’t getting along), The Princess of Montpensier is a bodice ripper with stunning costuming, beautiful sets and more castles than you can poke a ballista at.
Rather than a love triangle, it’s more of a love pentragram, as everyone seems to want a piece of the titular princess. Marie de Mézières (Mélanie Thierry) is torn away from her childhood sweetheart, Henri de Guise (Gaspard Ulliel) to marry the Prince of Montpensier (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet). The Prince seems decent enough, but is soon off to continue fighting the war, and he leaves his princess under the instruction of the ageing Count Chabannes (Lambert Wilson), who has sworn never again to fight in the war after inadvertently killing a pregnant woman. Forced to spend so much time with her, the Duke also falls for the youthful and beautiful princess. Before you can say ‘bloke magnet’, Henri is back on the scene, accompanied by the supreme playa, the Duke d’Anjou (Raphaël Personnaz) who sees Marie as a beauty to conquer.
As you can see, the princess is quite a popular lady. Thankfully, she’s portrayed as both intelligent and sympathetic by Thierry, and since, as a woman, her ‘duty is to serve’, one can’t complain about her stringing all these men along, like someone I don’t care to name *cough*Bella Swan*cough*. All of the male performers are exceptional also and the film is grounded by Count Chabannes. By separating himself from the ongoing war, he’s our way ‘in’, and though measured and reserved, he casts an analytical eye over proceedings and is the only chap in full command of his senses.
Though I used the term ‘bodice ripper’, the film is rather tame. The battle scenes, on the other hand, don’t hold back. They bring to mind Seven Samurai (Schichinin no samurai), in that the camera stays back as dozens of combatants go at it – there’s a kind of chaotic realism to the battles. In all other respects, the film is a little too disciplined – holding back the court intrigue, the humour and the sex – when maybe it should have let such things flourish. By not doing so, the film ends up being a tad too dry – this was a situation where I almost wanted it to veer more into melodrama.
Veteran director Bertrand Tavernier has a huge film résumé, and moves The Princess of Montpensier in a confident direction. Whilst there are no missteps, I feel like he could have taken a few more risks. As it stands, this is a solid historical romance that never becomes exceptional.Rating: