The year is 1562, the country is France, and the war is holy, as Catholics and Huguenots kill each other over divinity and aristocracy. The gallant Count Chabannes (Wilson) has wearied of the crusader's life, and redemption comes in the form of a petulant prince (Leprince-Ringuet) whom the nobleman once schooled. He's assigned to watch over his ward's brand-new bride, Marie (Thierry), while His Future Highness goes once more unto the fray. Given the snake pit of political maneuvering behind the scenes, and the young lady's unabated desire for a roguish acquaintance (Ulliel), Chabannes has his hands full. Did we mention that the gray-haired gent also has feelings for the princess?
A true Jacques-of-all-trades, Betrand Tavernier has done everything from jazz-musician character studies to Renoiresque family dramas; that he's adapting Madame de La Fayette's novella is less surprising than the fact that it's taken him decades to make a 16th-century period piece. Though swords clash and steamy looks are exchanged, Tavernier is less interested in swashbuckling or bodice-ripping than in examining the age's moral inequities: Women are bartered like cattle, and high-society backstabbing rivals those religious massacres in brutality. The filmmaker provides intellectual rigor to spare, yet precious little narrative focus (you virtually wander into plot strands) and there's a stiffness to the proceedings that neither Wilson's charisma nor Ulliel and Thierry's screen-ready beauty can remedy. It's a fine line between old-fashioned and just plain stodgy, one that Princess crosses often and with royal abandon.
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