Posted by: greercn | August 7, 2011

La Princesse de Montpensier (The Princess of Montpensier)

This luscious and beautiful film is profoundly anti-war, yet that message is enhanced by a warm and modern emotional feel, despite the setting in France in the 16th century.

Bertrand Tavernier has a dream cast and sensual cinematography. The look and sound of “Princess” makes war truly horrifying while valuing love, honour, bravery and learning. It’s a rich and languorous mix that grabs your attention through all of its 138-minute running time.

I love the British Film Institute (BFI) because of the comprehensive depth of all that is shown there and the quirky programming that has passion and excellence in film at its core.

Based on a 17th century work by Madame de Lafayette, “Princess” tells the tale of a young heiress, in love with a Duke but promised to a Prince. Independence of thought is in Princess Marie’s character, which is not helpful to her in her position as a bargaining chip for her parents.

Melanie Thierry is a talent to watch out for. She brings intelligent rebellion and great style to the role of Marie and is utterly believable in scenes with some of the great French actors who are featured in key parts.

Director Tavernier made the impressive “Holy Lola” and “In The Electric Mist”. He brings an artist’s sensibility to his big historical scenes. Horse chases and huge battles all stand out in “Princess”, as does the beauty of the countryside of Auvergne. 

Religious details are absent, but Tavernier makes it clear there is no right or wrong in these fights. The standout actor is Lambert Wilson as Francois de Chabannes, a war-weary scholar who is left to educate Marie when her husband goes off to battle.

Wilson does more with his eyebrows than most actors do with their whole bodies. It is a nuanced and astonishing performance that grabs your attention, even when he is alongside the younger and more beautiful actors here.

As Prince Philippe de Montpensier, Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet personifies nobility and depth. His scenes with Marie’s childhood love, Henri de Guise (a spectacular Gaspard Ulliel) remind you of those old Errol Flynn swashbucklers, while never failing to highlight the character differences between the two men.

The Duke of Anjou (Raphael Personnaz) is shown more sympathetically than in many books and films, with his lines emphasising a lovely wittiness and a great intelligence along with ambiguous moral values.

Of the other cast members, watch out for Judith Chemla as Catherine de Guise (Henri’s sister), Jean-Pol Dubois as the Cardinal of Lorraine and Evelina Meghnagi as Catherine de Medici. There isn’t a bad performance or a clunky piece of dialogue. It’s all elegant and compelling to watch.

Bruno de Keyser’s unique photography team and Philippe Sarde’s music bring unity to the whole and make it all feel seamless and connected.

My companion loved the movie but hated the ending. The packed BFI Studio audience seemed to agree that the end is bleak, while I saw it as more hopeful and open-ended. Tavernier does like to punch you in the gut, metaphorically, so do be warned that there is no place for the squeamish here. It’s full of blood and guts that feel very real.

Sensitive flowers of a gentle disposition should stay away. Anyone else should rush down to the BFI and see this extraordinary French-German production before it ends on August 18th. It reminds me of “Gone With The Wind” and “War And Peace”, because of its big epic feel. I will be buying the DVD, when it is available.



  1. “…along with ambiguous moral values.”

    I agree with you about le Duc d’Anjou except this above: he’s the only one among the young characters to show this feeling of duty and moral without any ambiguity. He is the one to show mature values compared to the two others unable to keep their feelings and hate for each other.
    I’m not as enthusiastic as you about the movie and its actors. Except Personnaz, Thierry and in a minor degree, Wilson, Leprince-Ringuet and Ulliel are below average, in my opinion.

    • Thank you for your intelligent and thoughtful comment. I truly love big historical epics and I thought Tavernier’s anti-war message was very vivid. There are so many little films and “Princesse” is a big film. I feel the Duke of Anjou was ambiguous in his feelings about his own position and in the way in which he behaved with Marie. Still, it’s a gentler and more kind view of him than there is in most of the films I have seen about him. I liked Ulliel and Leprince-Ringuet in this and I thought Wilson owned this movie. But I do respect your opinion.

  2. Thank you for your reply! Having a passion for Henr III, I can tell that you can forget all you’ve seen and read about him, but believe what Tavernier shows of him: this is by far the most clever and pertinent image of the future King in his cleverness, wit and comprehension of his duty and position. Some things could be debatted, but truly, it’s close to what could be seen as the truth. 🙂

    • I think you explain why I like it so much. It feels like a very real view of the times that formed Henri III. That sense of duty and position and of hard but required choices is different in Tavernier’s film to that of anything else I have seen. In some ways, Marie (for me) is the ideal of monarchy while the others form the reality. It feels like an allegory of the two World Wars as well, from a French viewpoint. It moved me deeply. Thank you, again, for your excellent and thoughtful comment.

  3. Hmm Could Marie be a foreshadowed personality of things to come for Henri – reminds me of his future love Diane dePoitiers? She was intelligent, witty and light haired she became quite powerful and he rarely left her side…..just thinkin

    • There is so much that foreshadows the rest of Henri’s life and mirrors other events in French history. Yes, Tavernier takes a gloomy view, as he often does. But there is so much hope in the light and possibility, even for the doomed women, that you remember positive things after you have seen it. As you say, there are happier futures here, for many.

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