|The Affair of the Necklace: Tepid History|
Warner Home Video, ASIN: B00003CY5S
Befitting a film chiefly concerned with a nation at the cusp of a bloody revolution, the narrator's gravely voiced hints of impending doom make it all too clear that the affair of the title cannot fail to end badly.
For all that, Charles Shyer's effort makes a welcome, if tepid contribution to a subgenre of historical dramas that tends to dwell on the twin terrors of a dimly lit, damp Bastille, echoing to bloodcurdling screams and the squelching of a rusty blade as it meets with a porcelain-necked aristocrat.
Driven by an examination of the ways in which a single individual and their actions can alter the course of history, The Affair of the Necklace follows the progress of one Jeanne St. Remy de Valois (Hilary Swank). Orphaned and forced by circumstances to infiltrate the decadent, debauched court of Marie Antoinette and her king, Jeanne finds her attempts to rebuild her life and find acceptance in French society repeatedly rebuffed by an indifferent, languid Queen (Joely Richardson).
Many years previously, a reactionary court stripped Jeanne's family of its property to punish her father's reformist tendencies. Lacking any other means to secure her place in the world, Jeanne enters into a marriage of convenience with the unscrupulous and conveniently absent Count Nicholas De La Motte; his title providing entry into the cloistered palace.
But the count's title fails to restore Jeanne's fortune. Despairing of ever reclaiming her birthright by legitimate means, Jeanne takes heart from a chance encounter with the charming Retaux de Villette (Simon Baker), court gigolo and gossip. Villette reveals the intimate secrets of prominent court figures -- and how they can be used to further Jeanne's ends. The pair embarks on an elaborate scheme, which culminates in the theft of a priceless diamond necklace intended for Marie Antoinette herself. In the process, they play upon the fears of a nervous jeweler, the ambition of the power-crazed, lecherous cardinal of France (Jonathan Pryce) and the discontent of the populace.
Though visually striking and enhanced by an unusual soundtrack featuring Alanis Morissette, as well as the obligatory Handel and Mozart, the film suffers from its lackluster performances. Even in his brief appearances on screen, Adrien Brody's count makes a far more convincing roué than the vapid Villette (despite struggling with a very clunky script). Swank finds herself continually upstaged by the supporting turns, notably Christopher Walken's camp cameo as a fraudulent mesmerist.
Ultimately, the central characters lack the personality to carry this flawed period piece. In addition, by trying to cover more ground than its limited focus allows, the movie leaves the viewer unsure whether it sought to vilify the royals or vindicate them. In some scenes it appears to strive for historical accuracy; in others, epic drama, interspersed with vague musings on the nature of fate, The Affair of the Necklace falls flat, failing to satisfy even as a standard bodice-ripper.
Maysa M. Hattab
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