It’s partly down to the performances. Mira Sorvino is surprisingly well cast as the regent who’s fallen for innocent hunk Agis (Jay Rodan). Somewhat inconveniently, this hunk is rightful heir to her kingdom (his dad was bumped off by hers), and he’s been brought up – by the philosopher Hermocrates (Ben Kingsley) and his scientist sister Léontine – to hate not only herself but all womankind. Some challenge: in order to woo and win him over, the princess has first to get to him, which means attaining an audience with the likewise hostile cerebral siblings. Disguise must be donned, while there should also be a smidgen – well, a carriageload, actually – of bare-faced seduction. Hence the nobleman’s garb.
Sorvino gets some sterling commedia dell’arte support in the servant roles, but it’s Shaw and Kingley who finally steal the show as the flustered rationalists whose vanity’s pricked by the trickster’s attentions. Wisely, Peploe never tries to conceal the artifice of the whole thing, but revels in it, deploying a light and mobile camera to get right into the heart of the scrummy intrigue. It’s clear from the start who’s likely to win the match, but at what cost? It’s by insisting on such questions that the film does justice to Marivaux, rather than ending up as some camply costumed romcom.
Cast and crew