What I Watched Last Night: “La Princesse de Montpensier”

Yesterday, I welcomed Daylight Savings Time with one of my favorite films, “La Princesse de Montpensier,” made in 2010. It was directed by Bernard de Tavernier and stars Melanie Thierry as Marie de Mézières, Gaspard Ulliel as Henri, Duc de Guise, Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet as Philippe de Montpensier, and Lambert Wilson as the Comte de Chabannes.

The film takes place during the Wars of Religion in France, during which time the Catholics and Protestants were embroiled in constant bloody conflict. The Comte de Chabannes, a Protestant who has grown tired of the fighting, leaves the war and comes across his old friend, Philippe de Montpensier, as the younger man is on his way to meet his prospective bride. Philippe is excited to see his old tutor again and offers him a position in his household.

Poster for La Princesse de Montpensier
Poster for film. Image from Wikipedia.org.

Meanwhile, Marie’s, cousin, Henri de Guise, is visiting, and they are very much in love and hope to marry. All hopes of this are dashed, however, when Marie’s father tells her that she is to marry Philippe de Montpensier. Marie is at first resistant, but in the end, she knows she has no choice, and the marriage proceeds. Marie returns with her young husband to his family’s château in the Auvergne, where she will be safe as it’s far from the fighting. Slowly, she becomes accustomed to married life, and even develops a cordial relationship with her new husband and cultivates a friendship with de Chabannes, who challenges her intellect and encourages her to think for herself. When Philippe is again called away to war, the Comte de Chabannes stays with Marie to assist her with running the château. But the arrival of Henri de Guise brings back all of Marie’s old feelings for him. His cousin, the Duc d’Anjou and heir to the throne, has only heard about Marie through word of mouth, and once he meets her, he becomes enamored of her as well. Soon she finds that four different men in her life all love her in different ways, be they good or bad, and that she must make her own choices to try and have a chance at some sort of happiness in her life, even if these choices come with risks.

The film is based on a novel by Madame Lafayette, which was published in the seventeenth century and which was inspired by a real intrigue that took place at Versailles. This twenty-first-century take on it follows the story faithfully but gives the characters much more emotional depth. Marie is shown as a woman trapped by circumstances beyond her control. Yet she chooses to make her own choices and is willing to accept them, be they good or bad. The different types of love are embodied perfectly by each of the four men. But the film doesn’t really condone one suitor over another; rather, it leaves it up to the viewer to decide which one was best for Marie. But the love affairs are only secondary to the biggest focus of the film: the different choices and opportunities that everyone has in life, whether or not someone ought to take them, and what the results each choice might be. There will always be should-have-dones or might-have-beens, but in the end, we have to live with the choices that we make, and we have to understand that it’s all part of living life.

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