The Princess of Montpensier is a sumptuous-looking period drama that is let down somewhat by a slackness in editing. The run time of 139 minutes could have easily been trimmed, but the film has a number of merits to compensate.
When Prince Philippe of Montpensier returns from fighting heretics, his father wishes him to marry at once. The Duke chooses the beautiful Marie to be his son’s bride, even though she loves her cousin Henri de Guise. After the marriage, Philippe leaves Marie in the care of his trusted companion Compte de Chabannes. The aging nobleman educates Marie in writing and poetry, but she still has affection for Henri…
Based on the short story by Madame de La Fayette, The Princess of Montpensier offers the fairly typical themes of a period drama. The narrative follows a somewhat predictable path. Nevertheless, the film is almost subversive in its depictions. Despite the costumes and the settings, The Princess of Montepensier is not a fairy tale. Although Marie becomes a princess, her life proves to be rather mundane, at least initially. Moreover, director Bernard Tavernier does not shy away from highlighting less glamorous aspects. The wedding night, for example, is suitably awkward and completely unromantic with all the ritual that accompanies it.
Although she is remarkable only for her beauty, Marie is an engaging character. Her angst at the predicament is believable, and she is developed enough to evoke feeling from the audience. The passion and frustration she feels is sufficient to maintain interest in her plight.
The problem with The Princess of Montpensier is that it feels overlong. While a significant duration is required to construct the narrative and develop the characters, the film could have easily been cut. With tighter editing, Tavernier’s film could have been fully absorbing instead of being only sometimes absorbing.
The art direction is good, giving a film a natural look. The battle sequences look appropriately grubby, while the castles are imperfect rather than picturesque. There is great attention to detail in some respects, but the directing and editing in the fight scenes could have been sharper.
Mélanie Thierry is well cast as Marie. She brings both beauty and a sense of resolve to the character. Lambert Wilson is suitably stoic as Chabannes, while Gaspard Ulliel accurately portrays the charm of Henri de Guise.
The Princess of Montpensier can be applauded for bringing a sense of realism to the period drama. It is just a pity that it was not twenty minutes shorter.