L'Anglaise et le duc (2001)
aka: The Lady and the Duke
A film directed by Eric Rohmer

Genre: History / Drama

Film Review

L'Anglaise et le duc photo
In what is perhaps one of his most surprising films, Eric Rohmer offers this stylised portrayal of life in France during one of the darkest periods in her history. Although Rohmer is perhaps better known for his perceptive and humorous observations of male-female relationships (such as the critically acclaimed Four Seasons cycle), the director has also turned out some respectable period dramas, including some work for French television and the two cinema films Die Marquise von O... (1976) and Perceval le Gallois (1978). L'Anglaise et le duc amply demonstrates Rohmer's enthusiasm and talent for the historical drama and should appeal as much to fans of Rohmer's brand of cinema as to anyone interested in French history.

Although French cinema is especially celebrated for its historical films, the period of the Grande Terreur between 1792 and 1794, when Robespierre and his cohorts attempted to purge Paris of its nobility, is not well represented. Andrzej Wajda's 1982 film Danton is perhaps the only memorable film which covers this period. This could be a reflection of the ambivalence of the French people towards this part of their history - pride in the creation of the French state being somewhat tempered by a lingering regret at the loss of their monarchy.

There is little doubt which side Rohmer is on in this film, which portrays the loyalists as maryrs, the revolutionaries as uncouth fools or repugnant bullies, and the Revolution as inhuman ideology gone beserk. The film is based on the memoirs of an English aristocrat, Grace Elliott, and consequently gives a personal and refreshing insight into the Revolution, providing a strident contrast with traditional historical texts of the period (which almost always come down on the side of the revolutionaries).

Rohmer's film is the antithesis of the traditional French period drama and is much closer in form to a stage production than a conventional cinematic work. Heavy in dialogue (as in most of Rohmer's films) and avoiding grand set-pieces, the film will almost certainly disappoint those who prefer the more lavish period films in which French cinema excels. To make up for that, the dialogue is beautifully written and perceptive, whilst strong performances from Lucy Russell and Jean-Claude Dreyfus (who play the Lady and the Duke of the title) makes this a compelling and illuminating film.

One controversial aspect of the film, which some critics have pillioried whilst others have praised to the skies, is the use of painted stills as static backdrops for the exterior scenes. These are taken from paintings of the period and are presumably intended to give an “authentic” depiction of revolutionary France. The actors are superimposed on these pictures using the latest digital technology - a surprisingly daring move for a comparatively conservative film director. This device is certainly imaginative and some of the scenes are certainly eye-catching. However, after the novelty has worn off, it is too easy to notice the flaws and limitations in this technique and, on balance, it perhaps works against the film, an unwelcome distraction from the understated drama. Despite this, L'Anglaise et le duc is well worth seeing, mainly for its humane perspective into one of the most tumultuous periods in French history.
© James Travers 2002 Traduction
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Grace Elliott, a well-connected English lady, is living in Paris at the time of the French Revolution...
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Film Credits

Directed by Eric Rohmer
Starring: Jean-Claude Dreyfus, Lucy Russell, Alain Libolt, Charlotte Véry, Rosette
[Read more...]

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