The Princess of Montpensier (2010) is a captivating historical drama with modern sensibilities from auteur director Bertrand Tavernier, starring Mélanie Thierry and Lambert Wilson. Tavernier is well known for historical narrative driven films, and The Princess of Montpensier is no disappointment.
Set during the ‘War of Religions’, Marie (Thierry) becomes engaged to the Prince de Montpensier (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet) via the political machinations of her father, despite the fact that her heart belongs to Henry de Guise (Gaspard Ulliel), the cousin of the Prince. Once married, the Prince is summoned to fight in the war and leaves his new wife in the care of his trusted friend the Comte de Chabannes (Wilson). Due to various circumstances, Marie is brought to court in Paris where the Duc de Guiche has returned to. To heighten the drama, the Comte has fallen for the beguiling charms of Marie, who has also has found the eye of the future king of France the Duc d’Anjou (Raphaël Personnaz).
Whilst being a historical piece, The Princess of Montpensier is an incredibly modern feminist piece, a tale of a women trapped in a male-dominated world who has little understanding or control over the wider events surrounding her. Tavernier tells Marie’s story in a deeply personal way, and watching the film you cannot help but become aware of the passion that the director felt about telling this story – his humane and emotive approach is quite simply beautiful.
Thierry’s portrayal of Marie is excellent. It is not only the actresses performance alone, but also her physique and beauty that bring something extra to the role. Wilson’s brooding portrayal of Chabannes is equally captivating, bringing the typically Tavernian theme of pacifism to the film.
Tavernier is known for his narrative-driven cinema, yet also brings a stunningly lavish quality to all his films. The Princess Montpensier was interestingly filmed using handheld cameras and CinemaScope, both of these tools bringing a magical intensity to the action and emotion on screen.
The Princess Montpensier is certainly excellent, but not without fault. The central problem is its length; this is a long film, running well over the two hour mark. This is partly due to the complexity of the plot and the thorough development of the characters, yet could have done with a tighter edit. However, minor faults aside, Tavernier’s period drama is a pleasure for the eyes and an education in emotive cinema from one of France’s most prolific directors.