Friday, September 25, 2009

The Lady and the Duke (2001)

The Lady and the Duke is a film for hard-core lovers of art and history, as it could be rather slow-moving for people who might not be up on the various intrigues that went on behind the scenes during the French Revolution. It deals with the Scottish courtesan Grace Elliot, who was not nearly as pretty as Lucy Russell, who portrays Grace in the film. Grace, however, may not have been a beauty by our standards, but in her day many men found her to be irresistible. According to The Period Movie Review:
The film is based on the true story of Grace Elliott, [a] courtesan living Paris and the once mistress of both the future British King George IV and the French Duc D'Orleans (cousin of King Louis XVI). Grace is a foreigner (a Scot, no less) and a stanch Royalist. Unwilling to leave her adoptive country at the start of the revolution, she finds herself trapped as France is plunged into the Reign of Terror and paranoia engulfs the nation. Labeled a foreign conspirator and an enemy of the people, she is eventually hauled before the Comité for her royalist sympathies.

The film is beautiful to watch, chiefly because all external shots feature actors digitally inserted into period paintings. However, these are not the vibrant oils of Jacque-Louis-David (a Revolutionary Painter); instead they are pale water-colours....which quite frankly is very surreal and eerie, especially when juxtaposed against the slaughter of the Revolution. For all this though, the film is very subdued. Some would call it dull.
To me, to brings to mind the great old BBC series of the 70's ('Elizabeth R' for example). It feels very theatrical and stage-like. The camera almost never moves, and shots are sometimes strangely composed (a diner scene, for example, were the camera is positioned behind one of the speakers, so that you seldom see their face....even if they are the chief speaker).
The following is from an article about Grace Elliot's life:

Grace was not born to a high society position and was in fact the daughter of a lawyer in Edinburgh. She was born in 1754 and her parents split up when she was young and as a result she was sent away to a convent in France to be educated, where (rather like Rose de Beauharnais in Penthémont and Anne Boleyn even earlier on) she observed the style and manners of the aristocratic French ladies that surrounded her and strived to emulate them with dazzling effects. Like Rose and Anne Boleyn, she was one of those very elegant, sophisticated women who manage to convince everyone around them that they are amazing beauties when in fact the reality probably fell very short.

The lovely, willowy Grace returned to Edinburgh in 1771 and was immediately hailed as a great beauty. To no one’s surprise she didn’t waste much time before getting married to an immensely wealthy but rather elderly doctor, John Elliott and it didn’t take long before the young Mrs Elliott was setting the town alight with rumours about her wanton ways and secret lovers. This culminated with her scandalous departure from Edinburgh in 1774 in the company of Lord Valentia, her latest paramour.

After a lengthy and shocking divorce trial, Grace was finally freed from her marriage and given £12,000 in damages, which was an enormous amount for the time. Her reputation was in tatters however as divorced women were regarded as outside decent society and her own family, disgusted by her behaviour had her kidnapped and immured in a French convent until the dashing Lord Cholmondeley managed to rescue her and bring her back to London.

Grace was officially ‘kept’ by Lord Cholmondeley but had many other lovers in England, including the Prince of Wales in 1782. She gave birth to a daughter Georgina Frederica Augusta Elliott later that year and declared her to be the Prince’s child, even having her baptised as such. It is not known who fathered Georgina but the Prince of Wales, Lord Cholmondeley, George Selwyn and Charles Wyndham all took an interest in the girl and could all conceivably have been her father. Lord Cholmondeley however raised the girl as his own and seems the most likely candidate.

Grace’s best known affair, with Philippe Duc d’Orléans began in 1784 and she eventually moved to Paris to be nearer to him, where she remained throughout the revolution despite great personal danger to herself when she made no secret of her allegiance to the royal family, even undertaking secret missions on their behalf.

Or so she would have us believe. Grace’s story is known to us as a result of her highly coloured and dramatic Journal of my life during the French Revolution, which is probably not entirely true. In fact it is probably mostly a fabrication. I don’t think I care though – Grace’s writing is superlative and it is a cracking story.

One of the best known tales about Grace is her story about hiding the Marquis de Champcenetz underneath the pillows of her bed while a mob of blood thirsty Jacobins searched her bedroom, even stabbing her mattress in their zeal to find hiding aristocratic fugitives. It is not known if Grace’s account of what happened is precisely true but it is a good tale.

As a result of her relationship with the Duc d’Orléans and her well known royalist sympathies, Grace was imprisoned from December 1793 until October 1794. She claims to have shared a cell with the doomed Madame du Barry, but that is probably not true. It is also said that she was kept with Rose de Beauharnais and was with her when she learned of Robespierre’s fall, this too is uncertain.

Although Grace Eliot is not one of my favorite historical characters, she is without doubt an interesting one. While her memoirs should be viewed as bordering on historical fiction, her account is colorful and entertaining. I enjoyed the film in that every scene looked like a painting, with authentic sets and lovely costumes. The film also shows how Grace tried to become the conscience of Orléans, guiding him to a more noble path than the one upon which he was set. Unfortunately, he was determined upon the destruction of his cousin the king, and it would have taken a woman of stronger character than Grace to dissuade him from his play for power.

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10 comments:

Onelda said...

I enjoy your blog so much! Your information is wonderful for me- I sew historical costumes and I am currently creating my third incarnation of Marie Antoinette (I've done Katherine of Aragon, Eleanor of Aquitaine and the three Maries among others). I love your sense of fairness to her and all the details you unearth. You bring her to life, the regal queen and the young woman. Reading your work has given me a multitude of ideas for other costumes. I can't wait to visit you every day! Thank you.

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, Onelda, I am delighted tp hear of your work and that you enjoy my blog. God bless you!

Anabel said...

Thanks for this review! I must watch this movie

Viola said...

Thank you very much for this post. Grace Elliot may have been a courtesan but she also must have been very brave. I didn't know anything about her so I found your post very interesting. I love your blog and always find it interesting!

I agree that the old BBC series were very theatrical. They seem a little strange now. I watched 'Elizabeth R' when I was a teenager and thought that it was wonderful. When I watched it again recently I didn't enjoy it as much.

elena maria vidal said...

You will love it, Anabel.

True, Viola, Grace was sincerely devoted to the Royal Family and like many others showed courage in working for their cause.

Agnes B Bullock said...

I LOVE this movie- I have seen it in French, with English subtitles, several times. Now I can get it for my collection!!!!!

Alexandra said...

This was so good! My husband and I really enjoyed this movie via Netflix. I'll have to search out her book. Thanks for the review. :)

Philippe said...

Great post ! I love this movie. I meant to comment before, but I wanted to include this link which has some really interesting comments on how the film was perceived in France where it really doesn't fit into the mould of most of our films dealing with 1789 which often tend to romanticise or sensationalise the events of the revolution. Another, similar film is L'autrichienne from 1989 about the trial of Marie-Antoinette. Very moving and accurate in contrast to the latest "version" of the queen's life in 2006 with Sofia Coppola.

http://www.kamera.co.uk/reviews_extra/ladyandtheduke.php

director eric rohmer's interview- http://archive.sensesofcinema.com/contents/01/16/rohmer.html

and for a discussion on the technical aspects of the film and a take on the morality behind some of the characters
http://www.popmatters.com/film/reviews/l/lady-and-the-duke.shtml

elena maria vidal said...

I enjoyed it, too, my friends. Thank you, Philippe for the additional information.

Matterhorn said...

I haven't seen this film in years, but, as I recall, the Duc, oddly enough, came across as rather an impressive character; at least, in the sense that you could see how he might have seemed "plausible." You could tell he was from a very great house, even if corrupted. I'll have to watch it again.