I’ve finally had a chance to watch La Princess de Montpensier, a 2010 movie based on the 1662 novel by Madame de Lafayette, set in war-ravaged 1562 France. I first heard of it after it made a big spash at Cannes years ago. 

From the NY Times review (which wasn’t gushing):

There are times when the lights are low and the bodices have been gently loosened that “The Princess of Montpensier,” a rousing amalgam of ambition, moods and genre conceits, looks like one of those old-fashioned diversions in which swords clang as bosoms heave with sweet passion.

I loved this movie, in large part because I love a well-made historical flick — and one set in France in particular. Also, it’s interesting to explore the stories that captivated 17th century France, the era I’m writing about.

It’s a story of tragic passion, rather well suited to a youthful society.

Youthful, I’m not. I kept thinking: she wouldn’t be carrying on this way if she had children. I kept thinking: lady, get real! 

But a beautiful movie it is. I found the soundtrack particularly enchanting: the sound of a fire burning, iron locks clanging, skirts swishing, horse hooves pounding. I liked that they sometimes showed people sharing sleeping quarters (they could have done this to a greater extent) and displayed a certain informality about nudity, which I suspect is historically likely. I liked how dank and dark the castles were and that the women did not look like they were wearing make-up. 

Basically, I long to be taken back in time, and I would have liked this movie to have been a somewhat more accurate illusion. Horses galloping for hours arrive in a sweat, please. (It would be such an easy detail to recreate.) A lady would never have travelled alone. Indeed, our princess is rather too often alone — convenient, I know, for a love story, but unlikely in fact.

Also, no wigs?

Also, a woman hard galloping side-saddle for hours and hours? A functional side-saddle is said to have been introduced into France at that time, but it wasn’t used universally and it wouldn’t have been used for strenuous riding. 

I also question the film-world historical “standard’ of revealing necklines. It’s not entirely inaccurate, I know:  

But in truth, when not at a ball or posing for a portrait, ladies would have more likely covered themselves with a partlet: “A low neckline could be filled in with a partlet. … Apart from being fashionable, the partlet was essentially used as a undergarment to keep warm in the winter, and prevent sunburn in the summer.” [Wikipedia]

{Queen Elizabeth I, 1572, with a partlet covering her shoulders.}

The heaving bosom makes for nice eye-candy — as do breath-taking riding scenes — but for me, what I’d love to see is historical accuracy. This movie was close enough for me to long for more. 

Will I watch this movie again? Likely. Do I recommend it? Yes. 

If you’ve seen it, tell me what you think. What historical movies have you watched that enchanted you, took you back?