Lady & the Duke (2001)

Reviewer: Shannon H.

    

Films about the French Revolution seem to revolve around one particular individual: Napoleon Bonaparte, the Corsican-born general who became Emperor of France during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Films like Napoleon from A&E and a miniseries on Napoleon starring Armand Assante are classic examples. Other related movies not about Napoleon depict the hedonistic lifestyle of bored aristocrats such as Valmont and Dangerous Liaisons. This particular period piece is about neither the sexual relations of 18th century French aristocracy nor the famous Franco-Corsican general. It directly relates to the French Revolution itself and those involved rather than using it as a mere backdrop.

Scottish aristocratic snob Grace Elliot is living the life of luxury in her home near Paris. With no worries or stresses, her life revolves around writing letters, talking to friends and servants while she is waited on hand and foot. She moved there to marry a Frenchman (his whereabouts are unknown) but ended up carrying on an affair with the Duke of Orleans, the cousin of King Louis XVI. Some "compatibility problems" broke up the two lovers but they remain close friends. Miss Elliot is a stanch monarchist who supports both the King and Queen of France while the Duke of Orleans supports revolution and believes that the King has lied to the French people. Still, their friendly political squabbles don't get intense and the two of them often joke about it. When the French Revolution gets too out of hand, Miss Elliot is in danger of being attacked by anti-aristocratic mobs so with a maid-in-waiting, she flees, by foot, to another town close by.

 

After receiving word that she is permitted to go back into Paris, she gives shelter to a sick and injured man named Champcenetz. However, this is no ordinary man. Champcenetz was once the rival of the Duke of Orleans (and the former governor of Tuileries) despite the fact that he had given him military aid when needed. On hearing that Miss Elliot is harboring one of his political enemies, the Duke of Orleans is enraged but then manages to find a way to get him back to his home without suspicion of revolutionary forces and protect his former lover. After Champcenetz is smuggled safely back home, things are not well at the home of Miss Elliot. The Duke of Orleans, her dear friend, has betrayed her by voting for the death of King Louis XVI (he was on trial at this time for the crimes he committed while he was on the throne) when he promised he'd stay home from the council.  he believed in the innocence of the French monarchs while the Duke of Orleans felt pressured by his peers to vote to give his own cousin the death penalty. Now the threat of imprisonment or execution hangs over the head of Miss Elliot for her politics.

 

Troops of soldiers from different parts of France come to her home on a regular basis to search for anything that might suspect her of being an enemy of the French Revolution (they already know she's a member of the aristocracy, which is a proverbial red flag; those who participated on the side of the revolutionaries hated the nobility and aristocracy). Finally, another house search finds an unopened letter which arouses the suspicions of the interrogators and Miss Elliot is put under arrest with serious consequences if she is proven guilty. The film is rated PG-13 for some violent images. We see shots of dead bodies in streets. A man is stabbed to death by soldiers. There has been talk about innocent people and criminals being executed via the guillotine (but so far, we don't see any heads being chopped off). Miss Elliot sees the severed head of one of her dear friends (it is put on a large, wooden stake and waved around by a drunken soldier). There are no sexual acts but Miss Elliot and other women wear dresses that show their cleavage. It's also implied that both the Duke of Orleans and Miss Elliot were having an affair prior to their friendship. Surprisingly, there is no profanity or graphic sexuality in The Lady and the Duke. Miss Elliot even dismisses Laclos' book Dangerous Liaisons as a "dirty novel." If the cleavage was covered up and the violence cleaned up a little, this would pass for a PG.

There are Christian themes, as well as mild supernatural themes. Miss Elliot claims to be a Christian. She prays every day, has a sculpture of the Crucifix hanging in her bedroom, and mentions God every time she's in a jam. However, she is also seen trying to tell the future to a friend of hers through Tarot cards. It's also hard to see a woman having a relationship with God while previously being in an extra-marital relationship with another man, but one can also assume that she had confessed and asked God for forgiveness. It is known that God made marriage for one man and one woman, not for a man and a woman while the woman sleeps around with a lover on the side. The film indicates that Miss Elliot was previously married but makes no mention of her husband so it isn't known for sure whether or not he died or left her for another woman.

I liked The Lady and the Duke up until halfway, when it started to get incredibly boring. The costumes, settings, and background were absolutely breathtaking, but the movie really just got tedious and I felt the need to stop the DVD and take it out. Speaking of which, the only features on the DVD are the scene selections and three movie trailers, as well as language preferences. There's no behind-the-scenes documentary, no interviews of directors or actors, or other interactive features. The character of Miss Grace Elliot (and the actress who portrayed her) reminded me so much of Victoria Hamilton who played Queen Victoria in A&E's Victoria and Albert because of her shrewd personality and facial features.  The shrewdness (and short fuse) of Miss Elliot reminds me of another fictional redhead: Anne Shirley, from the "Anne of Green Gables" series. 

I'd only recommend this film to serious history buffs. It is much better left on the shelves of Blockbuster Video since it is quite unexciting and tedious.