Loosely based on the life of Gustave Eiffel (Romain Duris), the 19th century engineer responsible for the world-famous tower which bears his name, this schmaltzy historical drama poses a what-if scenario. In keeping with Paris’ reputation as the capital of romance, the film proposes that Gustave’s reason for committing to building a 300-metre-tall tower was because of a run-in with his old flame Adrienne Bourgès (Emma Mackey) after 20 years. He’s now a widowed dad, while she’s married to a sour-faced rich guy. But despite the lingering memory of a painful separation, old feelings gradually rekindle.
Gustave and Adrienne are quirky idealists bristling against a stuffy bourgeoisie. He’s a man of the people; she’s an inquisitive soul who pores over engineering books. They’re first introduced in flashback, when she’s a teenager arguing with her father over her decision to wear trousers (sacré bleu, a woman in trousers!).
Mackey often gets compared with her Barbie co-star Margot Robbie, but here it’s Keira Knightley she calls to mind. As an unhappily married woman she channels Knightley’s turn in Anna Karenina, while flashbacks bring to mind the headstrong Elizabeth Swann from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. It is perhaps unfair on Mackey to make these comparisons but is only because the performances by the two leads are rather rote, while the supporting cast are completely forgettable. Duris is more rousing with his workers than in any of the ostensibly smouldering scenes with Mackey.
For a weepy romance, it’s not a great sign that the film’s most engaging moments involve engineering
For a weepy romance, it’s not a great sign that the most engaging moments come via Eiffel’s titbits of engineering knowledge. The Eiffel Tower itself is almost an afterthought, which is a shame since it serves an important narrative function. The mounting public backlash towards its construction serves as a portent for the scandal that would erupt if Gustave and Adrienne’s affair becomes public. Greater emphasis on this connection would have added some welcome fire to this tepid romance.
In UK cinemas Aug 12.