Watching this amazing film only confirms my belief that Jean Delannoy is one of the finest and unjustly underrated directors in French cinema. Directors are like racehorses in so far as their form is 'in' and 'out' and is not limitless. Delannoy kept his form for longer than most and here the form is decidedly 'in'.
The tempo is 'lento' which might test the attention span of some but Delannoy has captured wonderfully the rhythm, rituals, constraints and formalities of sixteenth century court life where even ones intimates are addressed as 'vous' and not 'tu'. Rival factions and court politics are quickly established in the marvellous opening scene.
It is ravishingly shot by Henri Alekan with art direction by Renee Renoux and one of Georges Auric's finest scores.
As for the cast Marina Vlady is wondrous in the title role and Jean Marais as the Prince has never been better in my opinion. Strong support here from Annie Ducaux as Diane de Poitiers who expresses her isolation and loss of influence after the King's death with the devastating 'C'est fini'. Lea Padovani is magnificent as Catherine de Medicis and there is a very effective performance by Renee Marie-Potet who strongly resembles the portrait of Mary by Francois Clouet. Mary had the misfortune to return to Scotland. Renee had the misfortune to die in a car crash the year after she filmed this role. Pieral played the poisonous dwarf to great effect in Delannoy's L'Eternel Retour'. Here he does the same as Le Bouffon.
Beautifully adapted by Jean Cocteau from the novel by Marie-Madeleine, Comtesse de Lafayette, the power of this film lies in its contrast between strong emotions and courtly restraint.