Queen Margot (France, 1994)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The ageless Isabelle Adjani, one of France's most beautiful faces, has an undeniable screen presence. And, with his lean, well-toned body and finely-sculpted features, Vincent Perez is equally pleasing to the eye. However, put them together with the expectation that they'll play off one another, and the love affair that's supposed to sizzle instead fizzles. Not only is there no chemistry between these two, but the cold-as-ice Adjani never thaws, and Perez shows that in France, like elsewhere, physical attractiveness does not equate to acting talent.

Fortunately, there's a lot more going on in Queen Margot than the relationship between Perez' gallant La Mole and Adjani's title character. The film's primary focus is the bloody sixteenth-century struggle between French Catholics and Protestants, and the resulting political intrigue in the court of King Charles XI. Queen Margot opens in 1572 at the ostentatious wedding of Margot -- the Catholic daughter of Catherine de Medici (Virna Lisi) and the brother of Charles (Jean-Hugues Anglade) -- to Henri of Navarre (Daniel Auteuil) -- the leader of the Huguenots. While this arrangement is intended to secure peace between the rival religious factions, it is a marriage of convenience only. Margot makes it clear that Henri is not welcome in her bed.

Six days after the marriage comes the Saint Bartholomew's Day massacre, an event that sees the wanton slaughter of thousands of Protestants, including the king's confidante. Henri, like many of his subjects, is forced to convert to Catholicism to save his life. Meanwhile, Margot has taken a new lover -- a brave and dashing Huguenot by the name of La Mole. Yet the I Claudius-like scheming and political machinations have just begun.

Most of Queen Margot is a top-notch historical epic featuring impeccable costumes and grand scenery. Unlike the "typical" French film, this is not at all talky. In fact, amidst the swordfights, carnage, and battle scenes, there are occasions when dialogue is at a premium. Queen Margot is a sumptuous movie -- except when the focus switches to the poorly realized romance between Margot and La Mole.

Perhaps the most chilling sequence in Queen Margot depicts the dumping of hundreds of lifeless bodies into mass graves. Echoing Holocaust horrors, it's not a unique cinematic picture, but this type of scene is rarely associated with anything other than Nazi concentration camps. It serves as an unpleasant reminder that atrocities litter the entire spectrum of human history, not just the present and recent past.

Directed by Patrice Chereau and produced by Claude Berri (the director of such epics as Jean de Florette/Manon of the Spring and Germinal), Queen Margot never becomes tiresome despite a substantial running length (actually, more than 30 minutes were trimmed by Miramax from the original cut). There is enough energy to drive this film through its few slow spots on momentum alone, and Chereau fortunately doesn't subject us to too many scenes with only Adjani and Perez. Featuring the likes of Daniel Auteuil (Un Coeur en Hiver), Jean-Hugues Anglade (Killing Zoe), and Virna Lisi, the rest of the cast is impeccable.

Queen Margot has enough pomp and pageantry -- not to mention melodrama -- to alienate viewers who don't enjoy that sort of film. However, for those who appreciate bigger-than-life historical sagas, Chereau's entry is often impressive and almost always entertaining.

Queen Margot (France, 1994)

Run Time: 2:24
U.S. Release Date: -
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Subtitles: English subtitled French
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: