Painted on an epic canvas, this French historical drama by veteran director Bertrand Tavernier tells of forbidden love during the religious wars between Catholics and Protestants in the 16th century. Despite its period trappings, Princess boasts as its heroine a thoroughly "modern" young woman (a luminous Mélanie Thierry) who has to choose between her duty and her husband. Although lengthy (close to 140 minutes) it sustains interest and feeds the emotions. Without any internationally recognized names, however, it may be a tough sell beyond the obvious Francophile market.
Against the background of a turbulent era in France, Marie de Mézières (Thierry), a beautiful young aristocrat and heiress to a fortune, and Henri de Guise (Gaspard Ulliel) fall in love, but Marie's father has promised her hand in marriage to the Prince of Montpensier (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet). The Prince takes Marie back to his chateau, where she is tutored by Chabannes (Lambert Wilson). This Protestant deserter is the Prince's friend and former tutor, and he looks out for him. To complicate matters, Chabannes also soon falls in love with the young woman. On their way back from battle, Henri de Guise and the Duke d'Anjou (Raphaël Personnaz), who's the heir to the throne, stop at the chateau. De Guise and Marie realize their feelings for each other have not waned, but no sooner does he spend time in her company and the Duke ‘dAnjou joins her list of admirers. The relationship between the four men becomes ever more complicated as the couple join the Royal Court in Paris. When de Guise insists on pursuing Marie, the Duke d'Anjou, who is set to follow his sickly brother Charles IX to the throne, uses his authority to thwart the affair. Chabannes, in an act of self-denial, sacrifices his own feelings for the Princess to allow her a night with her lover.
It was a period when the crown was changing hands swiftly while the authority remained with the powerful and fiercely Catholic Catherine de Medici, the Queen Mother who ruled with a steely temperament over her sons and the rest of the kingdom.
Based on Madame de La Fayette's 1622 short story, the intricacies of the French court and its protocol, as well as the part those things played in the general context of history, may prove daunting for those without an intimate knowledge of the period. The script does not provide that much illumination, yet the power of the acting and the quality of the visual imagery carry us along.
Distributor: IFC Films
Cast: Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet, Mélanie Thierry, Gaspard Ulliel, and Lambert Wilson, Raphaël Personnaz, Michel Vuillermoz and Philippe Magnan
Director: Bertrand Tavernier
Screenwriter: Jean Cosmos, François-Olivier Rousseau and Bertrand Tavernier
Producers: Eric Heumann and Frédéric Bourboulon
Genre: Costume drama; French-language, subtitled
Running time: 139 min
Release date: April 15 ltd.