Archive for the ‘Costume Drama’ Category

Visiting Rouen and Normandy, there is no escape to local guides talking about Gustave Flaubert’s literary masterpiece Madame Bovary. Set in the mid 19th Century, the scandal novel focuses on the adulterous wife of a local doctor. She’s a peasant girl, lucky to get married to a man with fame and money, yet feels bored and starts cheating on him in order to find more happiness and more stature. She dies at the end. Sorry for the spoiler.

The story has been filmed many times and there’s a new release planned for later this year. But the most famous one in France for the time being is the version of Claude Chabrol with Isabelle Huppert.

She’s great. She doesn’t quite manage making you like her character and there are several scenes where she’s overacting with emotions, but that’s probably a director’s decision. The setting is quite okay. And there is some humor. But the story is such a bore! And the directing isn’t all that professional for such a famous and famed director. The costume design is excellent, but the soundtrack makes you want to press the mute button as soon as there’s a non dialogue scene. It’s made in the nineties, but feels like it was made in the early seventies.

You somehow wish that James Ivory and Ismael Merchant had done something with this story.

The book most likely is better than the movie. However, I’m glad I don’t have to read it anymore to know what it is about.

With every visit of Versailles comes the desire to learn more about the life in the exuberant estate. It’s one thing to walk around on its premises amongst thousands of other tourists. It’s another to sit back, relax and enjoy the splendor of movies like Les Adieux A La Reine.  This little known French production has a stellar cast, enough contemporary humor to make it not a dull historical piece and tons of little details that are often overlooked by others filming in the baroque palace. Fans of the queen Marie Antoinette aren’t going to be happy with the fascinating portrayal by Diane Kruger of their beloved queen. She’s only in a few scenes, but turns the famed royal into an arrogant, moody, egocentric, but gorgeous bitch who abuses the adoration of her story reader for personal benefit. Lea Seydoux is equally excellent as the main character, a girl who reads stories to the Queen and who would do anything to be in her favor. Virginie Ledoyen looks stunning too, but has too little screen time to fully embody her character (Marie Antoinette’s best friend). This could easily have been made as a four episode tv series. But as a feature movie it works as well.

In a recent discussion about the state of blockbuster action movies, a friend claimed to be more forgiving for senseless scripts when it comes to motion pictures that bring back memories of his youth. After he dissed the silliness of the Lucy and John Wick story lines, he admitted being more tolerant towards The Avengers and The Transformers because he read the comics and played with the robot cars as a kid. I did neither of both, so my preference definitely goes to mindless entertainment starring Scarlett Johansson or Keanu Reeves.

After watching Ridley Scott’s Exodus a similar thought ran through my head. If you grew up with bible/thora/koran stories, you kind of know what to expect and can only be intrigued by this 2014 blockbuster interpretation. If you never read or heard the epic tale of Moses liberating his people from slavery and leading them to the promised land, you may experience this movie very differently and often think: WTF!

It’s presumptuous to believe that the story is known to all, but even if you have no religious upbringing, you still might have seen the animation movie The Prince Of Egypt. 

Exodus: Gods and Kings is good entertainment. Even in 3D. It’s epic in the sense that no costs were spared for costumes and set designs. But when you strip it from all the visual flair, you end up with a non-confrontational good vs bad story. That’s not bad. It’s not as pretentious as Noah and not as religiously inspired as Son Of God. It’s just a good historical epic story with little to complain about. Apart from details like the miscasting of Ramses (why choose an unknown caucasian guy, if you get someone like Said Taghmaoui?) and illogical images like Ramses’ army first being heavily decimated by a stone avalanche and then suddenly being larger than ever when they reach the Red Sea.

Based on a famous Surinamese book, Hoe Duur Was De Suiker (literally: How Expensive Was The Sugar) is set in the Dutch colonial sugar plantations at the end of the 18th century. Life was boring for the rich owners and hard for their slaves. But nobody suffered more than Sarith, a young woman so beautiful and lustful that many men wanted to bed her, but ignored her when looking for a wife.

It’s sad to write that all the focus in this movie (a shortened version of a tv series) lies on this one egocentric, arrogant, mean, soulless, but dramatically very convincing manipulating bitch. She’s not quite Vivien Leigh, but Gaite Jansen does an excellent job as the main character of this Gone With The Wind-like historical drama.

Ironically enough, the producers decided to tell the story from the viewpoint of her personal slave, in order to make it look more like a historical account rather than a romantic soap drama. The setting is great, a lot of time and money was spent on the costume design and some scenes are brutal both mentally and physically. The price of sugar was paid at the cost of inhumanity, deprivation and death.

But in the end it’s really all about a manipulating screwed up psycho slut. So, don’t expect a Dutch version of 12 Years A Slave.


The Lion In Winter is a fascinating movie about King Henry II of England, his wife Eleanor of Aqutiaine and their three sons Richard The Lionheart, John Lackland and Geoffrey, Duke of Burgundy. Also part of the cast are the French King Philip August and Henry II’s mistress Alais.

Seven characters and one stage: the castle in Chinon where a Christmas court takes place.

The setting is known to history buffs: in a treaty between the king of England and the king of France, the daughter of the French king was given as a dowry for a region close to Paris called the Vexin. Time has come for the girl to marry the future king of England or else the French king gets back the strategic area. Philip August has come of age and proves to be a much more challenging enemy to the King of England than his father. Henry II’s first son has past and it’s unclear who of his three other sons will become the next heir. Henry favorites John, his wife Eleanor favorites Richard.

The stage play is based on historical facts, but the story feels more like a holiday movie about an extremely dysfunctional family. It’s made in 1968 and it’s set in 1183, but it feels very 2014. It’s a stage play though and not so much a cinematic experience. The cast is small, the locations are few, but the acting is great and the dialogue superb! Katherine Hepburn is brilliant as Eleanor (she won an Oscar for it) and Peter O’Toole is even more impressive as King Henry II. They are the true stars, even though a young Anthony Hopkins as Richard The Lionheart and newcomer Timothy Dalton as Philip August perform well too. However, the real reason why you need to watch this movie is for the story. The conniving, backstabbing, deceiving and lying is fascinating and you still get fooled when they pretend to actually like each other. It’s a real soap, but one of high quality.

Just try to follow. Henry II locked up Eleanor after she sided with her son Richard to fight against her husband to get back her beloved Acquitaine. He and Richard are at constant war and is reluctant to name him heir to this throne as the first in line, also called Henry, passed away. Henry II raised his youngest son John to become king, but even though it’s his favorite he doesn’t really think he has it in him to become king. And then there is still the dowry, Alais, the daughter of the previous French King Louis. She was given to Henry II and Eleanor in a treaty made a dozen of years earlier. She was given as a child to marry the future king of England and was raised by Eleanor, but once the queen was locked up she became the mistress of Henry II. Then there’s Geoffrey, who was given the title of Duke of Brittany, but feels left out in the battle for the throne. He manages to create even more tensions with all involved. Oh and Richard the Lionheart is in love with the French King Philip August and Eleanor admits having had sex with Henry II’s father.


The cool thing though: as ridiculous as it sounds, as modern as it is presented and as dramatic it is told, it feels believable and seems historically accurate for most of the part.

This is a great movie.


A tip from the local guides in Versailles: L’Allée Du Roi, a French television movie from the nineties. It’s long (over four hours) and very literary (the dialogue sounds like it is memorized from the book it’s based on). The acting is solid, but theatrical. And there is little humor. The dvd has no subtitles, so it’s tough to sit through if you’re not a native French speaker. There are tons of historical characters, so you may want to have wikipedia opened while you’re watching (it really helps). And the first part is a real drag. BUT once the story takes place in Versailles, things change. The care for historical details is amazing. And the acting between the main characters is excellent at times. Too bad the end becomes a drag as well.

L’Allée Du Roi takes place at the court of Louis XIV, the Sun King and is quite intriguing. It recounts the story of his second wife, marquise de Maintenon Francoise D’Aubigné. The years of marriage only account for the last half hour or so as they got married quite late. Before she became his wife, she was one of his mistresses. Before she was his mistress she worked as a nanny to the children he conceived with his most famous mistress, Madame de Montespan. Before that she was married to a cribbled poet Paul Scarron. And before that she was a poor orphaned Hugenot who had been brought up in Martinique.

Dominique Blanc is okay as Francoise. Didier Sandre is also good as the king. And Valentine Varela is excellent as madame de Montespan. The scenes between these three actors are excellent. But you may just want to buy the book after your visit of France’s most visited palace.

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Season two of this successful BBC show, starts in the trenches of Northern France during the First World War. After all, the story takes place in the 1910s and the Great War had a huge impact on the life of aristocracy around Europe. The count and his family decide to open up their castle for wounded soldiers who need to recover. That’s very noble of course, but nobody really watches this show for its historical references.

After a few episodes it’s very clear what this show really is: a soap opera. Mary still loves Matthew, but Matthew is now in love with Lavinia and wants to marry her. Since Mary is damaged goods she accepts the proposal of a media magnate, partly because he also threatens to reveal her secret if she doesn’t do what he says. Anna wants to marry John but Sarah warns John’s ex-wife. Daisy gets engaged to William but only because he would keep up his spirits at the front. Oh and Lady of the house Cora is so busy that Count Robert gets it on with a housemaid even though he opposes to his youngest daughter Sibyl getting married to the chauffeur.  Edith then gets it going with a married farmer.

And this goes on and on and on.

I can’t be bothered with season 3. I’m sure it’s good as a soap, but as a historically accurate period setting it’s not.