The Lady and the Duke

"Excellent"

The Lady and the Duke Review


"Through a spyglass, I could see everything." King Louis XVI was beheaded on January 21, 1793, but instead of visualizing this act of regicide, legendary auteur Eric Rohmer's The Lady and the Duke observes from afar. Consider it a view to a kill made abstract. A proper British (yes, British) gentlewoman, Grace Elliott (Lucy Russell), and her loyal maidservant gaze from a lofty terrace in Meudon at the glistening city of Paris, where raucous crowds seem tinier than ants. The maid narrates what little she sees of the execution through her telescope (often muttering, "I don't know,") as the sound of cheering patriots and revolutionaries echoes through the air. What we don't see might not be able to hurt us. Just close your eyes and think of England.

During times of revolution, the aristocracy may feel a false sense of calm in their parlor halls, discussing tumultuous events over glasses of sherry until the walls cave in on them. Adapted from Elliott's memoirs, Journal of My Life During the French Revolution, Rohmer's latest artistic tour-de-force may seem far removed from his domestic comedies (Tales of the Four Seasons, etc.), a period film set during the most violent changes in French history. Resisting the temptation for grand-scale theatrics, much of The Lady and the Duke is about quiet, decisive moments between members of the cultural elite as they determine how to proceed as the world implodes.

Grace Elliott makes for an unlikely protagonist: a headstrong, snobbish blueblood, one unprepared for the machinations of history that sweep her along. A foreigner who accepts the French King as her own, Grace's life seems defined by fancy attire and lively political debate with her former lover, the King's hot-blooded cousin, Prince Philipe, Duke of Orleans (Jean-Claude Dreyfus). The times are changing, though, and the gears inch ever closer toward violence. During The September Massacres of 1792, she is encountered by a procession of rioters brandishing the head of the Duke's sister-in-law on a stake. Rohmer makes a harsh transition from tranquil, old fashioned, almost stagy parlor scenes to the swell of an angry mob. In doing so, he achieves what Braveheart and The Patriot could not: the face of death. When Grace sees her friend's disembodied head on a pole, Rohmer's attention drifts from the societal change to one woman's reaction shot, laden with hot tears.

Grace finds herself taking in a fugitive from justice, sheltering him from the mob. Through her relationship with the Duke, she seeks a passport for this one activist's escape. Grace doesn't even understand her own actions (and the Duke reacts in stunned disbelief at how she places herself in such danger). She endures persecution from Robespierre and his gang of thuggish equalizers, ceaseless police monitoring, house searches, even a brief imprisonment for harmless international correspondence.

Maintaining her stiff upper lip and pampered life (her imperious attitude to the servants never changes), she becomes a heroine through circumstance. The events themselves are intrusions upon her person, her home, and therefore her values. Aristocracy proves a glass house, one that can barely withstand the upheaval of stones. The Duke is called to vote on the King's punishment, and despite his hours of deliberation with friends and advisors, talk means nothing in the face of bloody action (or futile inaction).

The episodic structure creates a wobbly, jarring detachment from the events of the French Revolution, which serves as metaphor but also disconnects potential audience identification. Lazy viewers (and critics) may also complain that knowledge of French history is required for enjoyment of The Lady and the Duke. That's foolery, but brings up the valid criticism that Rohmer's characters occasionally become didactic. Rohmer's imperfect but assured push toward the future remains staunch and notable for casting a cautious eye upon the past while taking bold steps forward into an uncertain future.

What may arouse interest in The Lady and the Duke outside of foreign film enthusiasts with literary and historical passions is Rohmer's use of cutting edge digital technology as a means of exploring the theme of artifice as safety net or coping mechanism. The actors were filmed against a bluescreen, then placed against painted backdrops recreating the vastness of 18th century Paris. This recreation calls attention to itself in every shot, a Technicolor dream of fanciful buildings and wide-open streets. It looks as phony as Titanic, but unlike James Cameron's debacle, The Lady and the Duke plays with the notion of false security in those walls of stone. Why? They aren't real. The very foundation Rohmer's characters stand upon is false, and in their groundlessness they must discover themselves, in all their insubstantial glory.

Aka L'Anglaise et le Duc.

That's no duke!



The Lady and the Duke

Facts and Figures

Run time: 129 mins

In Theaters: Friday 7th September 2001

Box Office USA: $0.1M

Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics

Production compaines: Compagnie Eric Rohmer

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 71%
Fresh: 50 Rotten: 20

IMDB: 6.9 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer: Françoise Etchegaray

Starring: as Le duc d'Orléans, as Grace Elliot, Rosette as Fanchette, Marie Rivière as Madame Laurent, Charlotte Véry as Vergniaud, as Champcenetz, as Dumouriez, as Nanon, Serge Renko as Vergniaud, Eric Viellard as Osselin, as Duc de Biron

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Bad Santa 2 Movie Review

Bad Santa 2 Movie Review

The 2003 comedy Bad Santa is a holiday classic that skilfully mixes gross-out humour with...

Allied Movie Review

Allied Movie Review

There's a terrific script at the heart of this World War II thriller, with a...

A United Kingdom Movie Review

A United Kingdom Movie Review

Based on a powerful true story from the late 1940s, this drama is packed with...

Indignation Movie Review

Indignation Movie Review

Philip Roth's layered novels are a challenge for filmmakers (see also 2003's The Human Stain...

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Movie Review

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Movie Review

It's been five years since the last Harry Potter movie, and J.K. Rowling has been...

Dog Eat Dog Movie Review

Dog Eat Dog Movie Review

Yet another bonkers thriller starring Nicolas Cage, this trashy crime comedy comes from director Paul...

Iggy Pop - Post Pop Depression: Live At The Royal Albert Hall Movie Review

Iggy Pop - Post Pop Depression: Live At The Royal Albert Hall Movie Review

"Iggy Pop - Post Pop Depression: Live At The Royal Albert Hall" is a DVD...

Advertisement
Arrival Movie Review

Arrival Movie Review

This sci-fi drama has an enjoyably brain-bending plot that leaves the audience almost stunned with...

Elle Movie Review

Elle Movie Review

There's a boldly comical tone to this outrageous thriller that can't help but unnerve audiences...

100 Streets Movie Review

100 Streets Movie Review

A multi-strand drama set in London, this film is very nicely shot and acted, but...

Nocturnal Animals Movie Review

Nocturnal Animals Movie Review

It's been seven years since designer Tom Ford made a splash with his award-winning writing-directing...

The Light Between Oceans Movie Review

The Light Between Oceans Movie Review

With a sweeping, picturesque setting and emotive performances, this dramatic epic will appeal to moviegoers...

The Accountant Movie Review

The Accountant Movie Review

While this slick dramatic thriller plays with some intriguing ideas and themes, it never actually...

Train to Busan Movie Review

Train to Busan Movie Review

Leave it to the Koreans to reinvent the zombie horror movie and put a high-speed...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.