Isabelle Adjani in La Reine Margot (1994)


(director/writer: Patrice Chereau; screenwriters: Daniele Thompson/based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas; cinematographer: Philippe Rousselot; editors: Francois Gedigier/Helene Viard; music: Goran Bregovic; cast: Isabelle Adjani (Margot), Daniel Auteuil (Henri de Navarre), Jean-Hugues Anglade (Charles IX), Vincent Perez (La Mole), Pascal Greggory (Duc d’Anjou), Julien Rassam (Duc d’Alencon), Virna Lisi (Catherine de Medicis), Dominique Blanc (Henriette of Nevers), Pascal Greggory (Anjou), Claudio Amendola (Coconnas), Miguel Bose (Guise), Asia Argento (Charlotte of Sauve), Julien Rassam (Alencon), Thomas Kretschmann (Nancay), Jean-Claude Brialy (Coligny); Runtime: 145; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Claude Berri; Miramax; 1994-French-German-Italian-in French with English subtitles

“Lively as spectacle shot at authentic locales.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Previously filmed in 1954, with Jeanne Moreau. Noted director of theater and opera, Patrice Chereau (“Intimacy”/”Gabrielle”/”Hotel de France”), directs with assurance this lavish production of an historical epic. It’s based on the historical novel by Alexandre Dumas. Cowriters Chereau and Daniele Thompson keep the costumer flamboyant, bloody (a massacre, several poisonings and decapitations), erotic, filled with courtly intrigue and political machinations, daring (by showing the near rape in public of the heroine Margot by her brothers) and, at all times, lively as spectacle shot at authentic locales. One of its best features is the sumptuous painterly cinematography of Oscar-winner Phillipe Rousselot.

It’s set in August of 1572, when ruling Catholics defended the crown against the Protestant Huguenots, who demanded religious tolerance. Margot (Isabelle Adjani) is from a ruling Catholic family, who is the mistress of her brother Alencon (Julien Rassam). She has little choice but to go along with her scheming mother, Catherine de Medici (Virna Lisi), who is also the mother to the eccentric, neurotic King Charles IX (Jean-Hugues Anglade), and marry the Protestant Henri Bourbon, the king of Navarre (Daniel Auteuil). Henry will one day rule France as Henri IV. The arranged marriage is designed to bring peace and prosperity to the country, even though both families hate and don’t trust each other. Margot learns to tolerate a husband she has no love for, until six days later there’s a massacre. For the first time Margot falls in love while nursing a well-to-do young Huguenot soldier, La Môle (Perez), who was wounded at the massacre. Margot is trapped in a country with warring Catholics and Protestants, and to add to the tension her spiteful mom tries to get her smirking homosexual son Anjou (Pascal Greggory) Henry’s crown by trying to eliminate Henry and his allies. The massacre become known as the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, an infamous historical event that led to the death of some 6,000 Protestants (there’s no exact number, as some history books indicate it could be as high as 30,000 casualties). It blackened Medici’s name and left an ugly mark on France’s history.

Chéreau’s film, though overlong at the American version of 145 minutes even if shortened from the European version of 161 minutes, is nevertheless fast-paced, well-acted, and worth seeing. The Italian actress Virna Lisi won the Best Actress award at Cannes for her vitriolic performance as a manipulating monster.