Young Queen Margot finds herself trapped in an arranged marriage amidst a religious war between Catholics and Protestants. She hopes to escape with a new lover, but finds herself imprisoned by her powerful and ruthless family.
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The night of August 24, 1572, is known as the Massacre of St. Bartholomew. In France a religious war is raging. In order to impose peace a forced wedding is arranged between Margot de Valois, sister of the immature Catholic King Charles IX, and the Hugenot King Henri of Navarre. Catherine of Medici maintains her behind-the-scenes power by ordering assaults, poisonings, and instigations to incest. Written by
Oliver 'Asana' Duex <email@example.com>
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You smelt of jasmine that morning. I thought: maybe she's ugly under her mask. Or disfigured. But it didn't matter. You wouldn't let me kiss you.
I thought, she's even lonelier than me. She loves as though she is seeking revenge.
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Back in 1994 La Reine Margot' dispensed of every preconceived notion of traditional costume drama, bringing a radical and shocking slant on history. The lavish sets and costumes remained but the atmosphere was now tainted with bloodshed, poison, lust and incest. The regal palaces that were so stereotypically populated by loyal subjects are transformed into a viper's nest of power politics, schemes and deceit where royal heritage counts for little and deviousness is the key to success.
The year is 1572; France is torn apart amidst the conflict between Catholics and Protestants whilst the King is a mere puppet, first to his domineering, Catholic, mother (Catherine de Medici, played with superlative coldness by Virna Lisi) and later to the protestant leader Coligny. In a half hearted effort to bring peace to the land Catherine marries off her daughter Margot (Isabelle Adjani) to the protestant Henri de Navarre (Daniel Auteuil), a political manoeuvre that deludes no one. Margot and Henri are certainly a less than content couple; as they walk down the aisle they engage in a hissing match with one another where Margot succinctly informs him that Just because we're married it doesn't mean I have to sleep with you' and suggests he steer clear of her bedroom. They also fail to adhere to any form of decorum during the wedding reception; whilst Henri brawls with the Catholics (and flirts with a very youthful Asia Argento, of xXx fame) Margot goes window shopping amongst the male guests, looking for a viable one night stand. When the wedding guests prove unsatisfactory she simply dons a mask and takes to the streets, masquerading as a prostitute, and continues her search amongst the hordes of Protestant soldiers, who have gathered for her wedding, eventually settling on the dour La Mole (Vincent Perez). However any illusions of peace are shattered after a botched attempt to assassinate Coligny, as the Catholics, fearing a revolt, slaughter 6,000 Protestants in what becomes known as the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre.
The sheer horror of the massacre is reproduced with unflinching realism by director Patrick Chireau, who manages not only to shock but also recreate an atmosphere of utter chaos, exemplified by the moment when Margot is wandering amongst the palace corridors which have been besieged by soldiers and are strewn with corpses (Margot is curtly told return to your room and lock the door'). Unfortunately some of the impact of the massacre is lost due to the fact that we know barely any of the characters who are being murdered and it begs credibility that the Protestants seemingly put up no resistance. One of the few survivors of the slaughter is La Mole, who is saved by Margot when he breaks into her chamber, looking for sanctuary, which Margot freely gives to him (and more). In the aftermath of the massacre Margot also manages to save Henri de Navarre, forging a valuable alliance in the process. However, suspicion has been aroused that she is a traitor and she finds that she is in a decidedly vulnerable position where her only hope of freedom is to flee to Navarre with Henri.
Isabelle Adjani, France's premier actress, delivers one of her finest performances as the stubborn and promiscuous Margot, who despite initially coming across as vain and conceited later earns our sympathy as she finds herself in an impossible situation, where her position in the royal family is of little consequence (her brothers love her in a perversely incestuous way and her mother sees her as an inconvenience and potential threat to her authority) and the threat of assassination always looms around the corner. Whilst the political manoeuvrings and power struggles are intriguing the same cannot be said for the tepid romance between Adjani and Perez. The pair lacks any chemistry; even their scenes of erotic passion come across as frigid and awkward. They make an attractive couple, but not a particularly convincing one.
La Reine Margot is also one of the most visually sumptuous films ever released; the big budget clearly didn't go to waste in recreating the gothic decadence of the period and the costumes were deservingly nominated for an Oscar. It's easy to view La Reine Margot' as a precursor to the acclaimed 1998 film Elizabeth', as both centre around a female historical figure who has to endure the conflict between Catholics and Protestants whilst surviving assassination attempts (usually via poison) and overcome tragedy as those who they care for are systematically murdered. Indeed if nothing else La Reine Margot' provides a chilling insight into one of history's most horrific atrocities and offers an unsettling portrait of the moral bankruptcy that pervaded throughout 16th century society.
My Score: 8 out of 10
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