QUEEN MARGOT is a 1994 ‘intimate epic’ from France, its 161 minutes well worth checking out as a historical period piece and acting showcase. Equally praised and dismissed, with justification for both camps, it tells the complex story of power-scheming nobility, circa 1572, including the Catholic ruling elite-prompted slaughter of the Protestant Huguenots, shown in effective and gruesome detail. So much for religious tolerance.
The movie was disdained by some for its rather confusing focus and much rushing-about-passionately, and it’s hard to get too attached to the characters. Though well produced, it lacks the sort of grand establishing shots generally used in period films: no big battles (the massacre doesn’t count), no lavish balls, no sweeping scenery. The cast, however, is excellent, down to the smallest bit parts, and Isabelle Adjani handles the role of Margot, sort of a libertine heroine, in fine style.
As much as any Hollywood saga, the Euro storytellers play some with the facts—age of participants, that sort of thing—but the intent after all is to reap drama from history, not make a documentary (right, find the audience who will sit rapt for the ‘persecution of sects in Medieval Europe’, and toss some burgundy in my face when we get to Lisbon).
I always have to hold my Oh-Please-Just-Shut-Your-Killjoy-Piehole urge in check when I hear someone complain, with that tiresome rectitude they were injected with in Introduction to Film Theory, about historical accuracy from Hollywood—c’mon are you seriously telling me that Kurosawa was using source-fidelity with Ran (unless it was common practice in Old Japan to use 75 arrows on one target)?
To this benighted bumpkin, the main surprise was the lacerating brilliance of former sex-bomb (hydrogen variety) Virna Lisi, 58 here, as the demonic Catherine de Medici. She eats this plum villain role alive. Brought over in the mid 60s as one of the plethora of European stunners that were groomed for the international stage, following the success of Sophia Loren—-Senta Berger, Claudia Cardinale, Romy Schneider, Elke Sommer, to pant over a few—Lisi vamped gamely through a handful of vehicles with Lemmon, Sinatra and Curtis—pass the valpolicella if you recall How To Murder Your Wife, Assault on a Queen or the so-subtle Not With My Wife,You Don’t!—-the frankly gorgeous Virna soon returned to Italy. She worked on and off for years until the talent that was masked by her beauty blossomed full-tilt starting in the 90s and went on a roll in one of the great comebacks of her peer-set.
Watch Queen Margot, citizens de le Republique, not for more crystal clarity about why one religion gang-jumps another (find someone who understands that issue), or for the numerous impalings, poisonings and a pretty good boar hunt.
Watch it for lovely, “maybe-she-can-replace-Marilyn”, used-up & cast-out LBJ-era dream import Virna Lisi, roaring down the backstretch like a Maserati, grabbing genuine Actress Glory like an overdue bottle of Moet et Chandon ’65.