L’Anglaise et le duc

Though Eric Rohmer is best known as an insightful observer of contemporary mores, he has also, with Die Marquise von O. . . and Perceval le Gallois, proved himself a supremely sensitive and imaginative adaptor of literary classics. This, his third ‘historical’ feature (and his first shot digitally), is no less successful an attempt to bring a sense of immediacy to the past. Based on the memoirs of Grace Elliot, a wealthy and well-connected British woman living in Paris at the time of the Revolution, it charts her experiences during the Terror (a period virtually ignored by French filmmakers): a liberal Royalist who is nevertheless an intimate of the influential Republican the Duc d’Orleans, Elliot becomes an object of suspicion after helping the governor of the Tuileries evade the guillotine. Partly a suspense drama about loyalty, betrayal, courage and commitment, partly a very relevant study in how political ideals may be tainted by murderous fanaticism, partly a typically astute moral disquisition, this magisterial film boasts tremendous performances (especially from Lucy Russell, previously seen only in Christopher Nolan’s Following) and exquisite visuals resembling Parisian painting of the period. (Trust the ever-youthful veteran Rohmer actually to use digital inventively.) A genuinely splendid and quite remarkable achievement.
France, 2001. English subtitles. Colour. Dolby stereo SR. 125 min.

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