Queen Margot

Reviewed By Isobel Sharp
Posted 01/10/02 22:23:36

"Sex, violence, power - and subtitles!"
5 stars (Awesome)

Everyone loves a wedding, especially a royal wedding. The bride in her stiff lace collar...the mother of the bride telling a courtier to sleep with her new son-in-law...the bride refusing to say I Do...and of course, those special words exchanged between the newlyweds as they leave the church: Groom: Your mother dislikes me. Bride: Yours hated me. Groom: Yours killed mine. Bride: There was no proof.

Margot, the sister to Catholic King Charles IX of France, has been reluctantly married off to Henri of Navarre, the Protestant king of a French province. This melding of Catholic and Protestant nobility is meant to bring peace to France, which is threatened both within and without by religious strife. At home, the Protestant minority has become increasingly militant, threatening to revolt against their Catholic oppressors. In addition, the King has taken Coligny, a Protestant military man, as friend and advisor, who wants France to fight a war against Catholic Spain. The alliance between Margot and Henri has been brought about by the dowager Queen Catherine, Margot's murderous mother, who wants to gain Protestant support so she can safely remove Coligny from his position at the right hand of the king, and reassert her power over her son.

However, the Protestant presence in Catholic Paris over the time of the wedding, in the hot summer in 1572, has pushed the entire city to the verge of violence. When Catherine's assassination attempt on Coligny fails, the Catholics decide to strike at the Protestants before they rise up in anger. By the end of the day, the streets of the city are lined with the dead, and Margot's marriage to Henri has become more than just a political arrangement. Very simply, he is relying on her to keep him alive, and she, to his surprise as well as that of her family, seems dedicated to doing so.

Margot (the incomparably beautiful Isabelle Adjani) finds herself balanced between two dangers - the threat of the Protestants who by and large see her as a pawn of her family, and her family itself, which will do nearly anything to maintain their power. Though she refuses to admit that her mother or brothers would sell her out for their own well-being, she is well aware of what they are capable of. Margot uses every tool she has; she cajoles, seduces, and bargains with both her brothers and Henri's supporters, trying to become neither critical nor useless to either party. She will be lover, sister, ally; whatever it takes to keep herself and Henri alive.

Her dedication to Henri, however, extends only so far - though she sees her marriage vow as binding him to her in some ways, she does not hesitate to pursue another lover with enthusiasm. La Mole (Vincent Perez, attractive if a bit scenery-chewing) is a Protestant accidentally thrown in Margot's way, a supporter of Henri who betrays him with his wife. Margot and la Mole form an instant and powerful bond, which leads them both into yet more danger. Like Margot, la Mole finds himself torn between forces - he trusts Margot, who his fellow Protestants consider a whore and liar, yet is willing to give his life for the Protestant cause.

To survive, each person must carefully travel the network of alliances, be both dangerous and nonthreatening, powerful and weak, depending on the observer. Henri chooses to convert to Catholicism rather than be put to death, hoping he can survive long enough to return to his Protestant supporters, and knowing that his conversion, forced though it may be, could destroy their support of him. Margot watches over Henri (during his conversion, she leads him step-by-step through the ritual prayer, kneeling beside him at the very altar at which she had reluctantly married him only days earlier), while trying to stay close enough to her family to not become a threat to them. Even the king (played with both charm and creepiness by Jean-Hughes Anglade) is not immune; he comes to care for and respect Henri, yet knows that too much leaning in that direction will make him useless to Catherine, and he may become the next target of her poisoner.

Adjani is a intense and sympathetic Margot, balanced nicely by Daniel Auteuil as a desperate but honorable Henri. The royal family is profoundly unsettling: the king acts like a mad child, the brothers treat Margot as if she were their common property, the second in line for the throne loves his mother way too much, and the mother herself, old Queen Catherine (played to cruel perfection by Virna Lisi) watches over her brood like a gallows crow. Visually, the film is reminiscent of a sort of Flemish style of painting - lots of stained white walls, streaky blood-colored shirts, and grey and black, not to mention excellent lighting.

It's a period piece, and it is in French - nevertheless, Queen Margot is just as violent, sensual, and full of intrigue as anyone could want. It's a compelling look at one of France's most violent times, as well as at the people whose drives (both noble and base) quite literally made history.

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