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  • Colin Fraser

JEANNE DU BARRY

THREE AND A HALF STARS An illegitimate commoner rises to the top of the court of King Louis XV.

DRAMA FRANCE French #JEANNEDUBARRY

Starring Jonny Depp, Maïwen



Costume dramas are never more opulent than when they take place in the court of a Louis (13, 14, 15 - they all work). Writer/director/star Maïwenn chooses the last, the pompous, puffed and powdered Louis XV for this lavish tale about his chosen mistress, Jeanne du Barry. This is very much her story - how the illegitimate daughter of an impoverished seamstress used both beauty and brains to rise as close to the top of French aristocracy as any commoner could.


The Count du Barry (Melvil Poupaud) is doing very nicely thank you as an intermediary for the affections of his consort Jeanne. Their upwardly mobile aspirations are focussed on the King and with a little political greasing, du Barry presents Jeanne to the court. Not a wise choice as it happens, for no sooner do her eyes met Louis’ than stars cross and, well, you can imagine the rest. Jealousy ensues.


While JEANNE DU BARRY is a straightforward affair without much in the way of cinematic flair to its credit, what it lacks in bombast it makes up for with eye-popping costumes, gorgeous sets and a location like none other. This Versailles looks as tasty as the delicious treats being served to indifferent nobility inside. Fans of period drama will not be disappointed.


Of some note is Maïwen’s attempt to reclaim the reputation of a celebrated sex-worker whose frankness caused quite the 18th century scandal. It’s one thing to have a mistress of questionable heritage, quite another to install one of questionable reputation in a palace while tongues wag cross the country. Yet this is exactly what Louis did. But as is the way of such things, when something seems to good to be true, it usually is. Louis falls ill and Jeanne’s fortunes fall with him.


With one eye firmly on the Anglophone audience, Jonny Depp is stunt-cast very much against type. Yet with his signature quirks and affectations kept firmly in check, he brings a surprising gravitas to the role and, as it turns out, a commendable conviction as the French king. While perceiving any steamy sexual chemistry between him and Maïwen’s du Barry requires some effort, it’s not unreasonable to assume that an ageing monarch would hardly behave like a young Shakespeare in love. He doesn’t, they don’t. 


Accordingly, JEANNE DU BARRY may not be a film that sets the screen one fire yet it is both engaging and entertaining as it also seeks to acknowledge the contribution of one of history’s more interesting women. Fans of period drama will not be disappointed.


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