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The Lady & The Duke
cast: Jean-Claude Dreyfus, and Lucy Russell

director: Eric Rohmer

123 minutes (PG) 2001
widescreen ratio 1.77:1
Pathé DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 4/10
reviewed by Debbie Moon
Paris in the French Revolution was a dangerous place for the rich; but Grace Elliot, a Scottish adventuress and mistress of the great, was one of the few foreigners who stubbornly remained. Supported by her former lover and great friend, the revolutionary Duke of Orleans, she was safe for a time. But once Orleans, despite being the King's cousin, was manoeuvred into voting for the death of the royal family, suspicion and politicking began to drag them both into the shadow of the guillotine...
   The most extraordinary feature of this historical epic is its visual design. Rohmer has used modern technology to map the actors onto backgrounds derived from period paintings. The effect is both beautiful, and strangely disconcerting. Certainly, it adds to the stagey feel of what sometimes feels more like a dramatised history lesson than a personal narrative. While the events of the Revolution are undoubtedly dramatic, most of them occur off-screen - including, astonishingly, the final arrest, imprisonment, and execution of a key character.
   All this leaves for the audience is a great deal of expositional discussion about who's in danger from whom, and why. There's a great deal of travelling, petitioning, searching of houses and sending of letters, but nothing much seems to come of it. Of course, the film may play better to a French audience, more aware of the context and meaning of each political reversal. But without that understanding, or at least an increased sense of personal danger, what should be a gripping study of a relationship torn apart by the demands of history becomes stilted and repetitive. The Lady & The Duke is a beautiful film, but ultimately something of a missed opportunity.
   The DVD has Dolby digital 5.1 sound; French with English subtitles. Only disc extra is the original trailer.