I’ll admit, I love a good period film with gorgeous costumes. Dress porn! This week’s pick is “La Reine Margot,” which has plenty of dress porn to go around and plenty of historical drama so you learn something. The film tells the story of Queen Marguerite de Navarre, wife of Henri IV of Navarre, and her Protestant lover as tensions between the Protestants and Catholics heat up during the French Renaissance . It stars Isabelle Adjani, Daniel Auteuil, and Vincent Perez, and it was released in 1994.
In late sixteenth century France, tensions are simmering between the Catholics and Protestants. To try to bring peace to France, King Charles IX and his mother Catherine de Medici arrange a marriage between his sister Margot (Adjani) and the Protestant king of Navarre, Henri de Bourbon (Auteuil). The marriage ceremony only foreshadows the difficulties that are to follow, as Margot refuses to answer when asked if she will accept Henri, whom she doesn’t love, as her husband. Charles pushes Margot forward and her cry is accepted as an “I do.” Henri takes a mistress on their wedding night, and Marguerite begins an affair with Protestant soldier Joseph de la Mole (Perez). The wedding night heralds the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, which occurs the next day, and Margot saves La Mole’s life.
Catherine and Charles try to exert their influence over Henri to try and make him convert to Catholicism by using Margot as a pawn, but Margot, even though she loves another man, supports her husband and finds herself growing farther and farther away from her family. She refuses to be a pawn, and chooses to be a mistress of her own fate, doing what she believes to be right while following her heart and trying to find a possible way to be with La Mole.
The film presents Margot as a very strong woman who is ahead of her time. She defiantly complies with her family’s wishes when it comes to marrying Henri, but she sees that such a marriage has freed her from the machinations of her mother and her brothers. Margot is also presented as a sexually confident woman, something we don’t always see in period films. She does things on her own terms despite what society around her might say. Perhaps it’s the Medici blood inherited from her mother that makes her this way, but unlike her mother, she is able to connect with people and doesn’t wish to seize all the power she can. She is a very normal woman in a very complicated time, but because of her station in life as a royal, she can’t have what other normal women might have.
There is more on Marguerite de Navarre’s story here, but the film itself is a masterpiece. The cinematography is very well done, and the costumes, as I have said before, are absolutely exquisite. There is also a certain reality to it, as is shown in the hygiene of the characters. Not everyone has freshly washed hair or clothes, not even the royals, which is why this makes this such a wonderful historical film.