Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Cracks In The Armor Of The Empire: Queen Margot

The Good: Casting, Acting, Characters, Costumes, Special effects
The Bad: Some aspects of plot, emotional detachment of characters
The Basics: Surprisingly good historical drama that creates a love triangle, paints a disturbed family and makes one wonder how much blood can be shed for god.

Queen Margot is possible one of the most deceptively named films of all time, for the movie isn't so much about Margot, or Margot as a Queen for that matter, as it is about the power struggle between Catherine Di Medicis and Henri of Navarre. Basically, it's a bloodbath between the Protestants and the Catholics in the late 1500s.

The central characters are Margot, daughter of Catherine Di Medicis, who is forced to marry Henri of Navarre as a peace offering to prevent a war between the Protestants of Navarre and the ruling powers of the rest of France. At least, I think that's how it is. While the film begins with a brief history lesson, it gets blurred rather quickly as the film tends to refer to characters solely as "Protestant," "Catholic," or "Navarre." That's to say, unless one knows France or its history very well, it's a lot of effort to keep track of who is who and where everyone is. Henri is focused on almost as much as Margot and he seems generally likable, fearing for his life from the first moments following the wedding. He seems quite human. While Catherine Di Medicis is one of the other primary characters, her role is often overshadowed by La Mole and Charles IX. Writing a review for this film is made somewhat more difficult by the fact that the subtitles seldom reference names as often as the french dialogue does. The final integral character is Anjou, Catherine's middle son, with whom she shares her ambition and a quasi-incestual relationship.

So, as should be evident by now, it's vastly more an ensemble piece than it is the story of Queen Margot. History, however, is like that.

The film opens with the crazy/drunk Catholic Charles IX ruling over the land, under the thumb of Catherine. Margot is married to Henri and as their wedding party creates chaos in Paris, Catherine orders Charles' Admiral killed. Anjou then helps lead the slaughter of the Protestant revelers in the city. 6,000 are massacred, though Henri survives and Margot saves La Mole, a Protestant who Margot had sex with on her wedding night as opposed to her husband. After the night of much slaughter, Henri is forced to convert to Catholicism to save his own life and an effort then is underway to rescue him.

To say more about the film would only confuse you more. It's a political film. The question of whose side each character is on runs through the film as they betray, backstab, love and challenge one another. I almost called my review "Moby La Mole" because of the fantastic dueling relationship the Protestant La Mole has with the Catholic Coconnas.

Despite the fact that most of the time characters are whispering and thus many of the male voices sound the same (or perhaps it's a prejudice against subtitles; reading the dialogue makes it difficult to differentiate tones), the casting is superb. I recall from my European History classes all the way back in high school how villainous Cathrine Di Medicis was supposed to be and she was PERFECTLY cast. She appeared exactly as I envisioned her all those years ago!

The kicker is the costuming. The period costumes are wonderful, especially the women's. The film has a sense of style and grace that is too often neglected in film today. There is an amazingly beautiful look to the film and it's quite captivating. The problem is in the male costuming. Scene to scene it's almost impossible to tell who is who right away. That is, there's no consistent uniform between the Protestants and Catholic regimes so - especially in the battle scenes - it becomes very difficult to distinguish who is who. It's made more difficult by the fact that there are times characters are killing members of their own regimes.

I have to say, the effects are fairly amazing. In the massacre scene, there's a very graphic neck slitting and I've still yet to figure out how it was accomplished, it looks so real. I was very impressed.

The movie is worth your time for several reasons: 1. It reminds us how history is not as neat and tidy as we read about it, 2. The characters are interesting and one or two of them are actually real enough to be likable (Keep an eye on Henri and Charles, they have more genuine passion than Margot), 3. The twists and turns require an attentive viewer and, for the most part, it pays off.

Certainly not for children, this film is spectacular to watch and there's enough there to make it worth seeing more than once.

For other historical drama films, please check out my reviews of:
The Sound Of Music
A Man For All Seasons
Memoirs Of A Geisha


For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2001 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

| | |

No comments:

Post a Comment