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Richard T. Heffron
Klaus Maria Brandauer,
An episodic look at Grace Elliott (1760-1823) and Philippe, the Duke of Orleans, during the French Revolution. In 1790, they are friends, no longer lovers. He suggests she leave France, she warns him to quit the Revolution. In 1792, she must escape Paris on foot. Less than a month later, she returns on an errand of mercy and shows great courage saving the governor of Tuileries. The Duke in turn steps in to protect Grace. In early 1793, she demands a promise from the Duke that he vote to spare Louis's life; he does not, and Grace is furious. In April, he warns her of a search; she is arrested and brought before the committee. Orleans, too, is suspect. The guillotine awaits. Written by
This film was shown as part of the 2002 French Film Festival in Sydney and it is certainly very French, being pre-occupied with the morality of the French revolution, here seen from the aristocratic point of view of Grace Elliot, the Scottish ex-mistress of both George, Prince of Wales (later George IV) and the Duc d' Orleans, cousin of Louis XVI (who was a supporter, initially, of the Revolution). As played by Lucy Russell, Grace is an unwavering royalist who goes on living her gentlewoman's lifestyle in and around Paris, regardless of the dangers, which are considerable for someone like her. She has no sympathy with the revolutionaries and is horrified by the execution of Louis and his Queen, which she observes from afar.
Having once walked out of an Eric Rohmer movie (`Clair's Knee') rather than die of boredom, my expectations were not high. This movie (taken from Graces' memoirs) is mostly talk - gentlewomen did not, after all, engage in much action but she does harbour an aristocratic fugitive at one point, to the Duke's dismay. Grace's relationship with her ex-lover, the portly and rather pompous Duke (Jean-Claude Dreyfus), is an intriguing one. She is not able to exercise much influence over him, not because of any lack of persuasive powers, but because he is too weak and irresolute to follow her advice. As a foreign woman living alone (she was widowed a year or two previously), she needs a powerful friend or two, but the Duke, for all his courtly manner, isn't a lot of help.
The cast weave in and out of stylised (and digitised) backdrops and this production style fits in well with the historical setting. The sets are intended to be seen as backdrops, unlike, say, the Coliseum scene in `Gladiator'). This has the effect of focusing the audience on the actors rather than be distracted by the set. It was brave of Rohmer to adopt such an innovative format, but it works well here. There are a few dramatic moments such as when Grace is hauled before the local revolutionary committee on suspicion of spying for Britain (naturally the most handsome revolutionary takes her side). It is however basically a talk show (`what I did in the revolution I hated'), and often rather slow. Lucy Russell, though, is quite compelling as Grace, and this time at least I was not driven from the theatre.
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