This is a lavish tale of the life of Henry the Huguenot Prince of Navarre (Julien Boisselier), who goes on to become the King of France. It starts with the early life of Henri and includes a visit from Nostradamus, who predicts Henry for great things - well he would wouldn't he, always showing off like that. The problem is that the little kingdom of Navarre in South West France is protestant, the King who holds power in Paris is devoutly Catholic. As has been the case throughout history this leads to war.
Henri is driven more by his mothers ambition, his early motivations coming from association with the peasants and a gift for the Gallic use of his tongue (and I don't mean oration). The King of France, Charles IX played with excessive verve by Ulrich Noether (Himmler from `Downfall) is also a puppet who is controlled by his nasty mum, the one Catherine de Medici (Hannelore Hoger). She is the power behind the throne and sets about an alliance with Navarre that will be sealed by the marriage of Henri to her wayward and rather slutty daughter, Margot. Henri jumps at the chance for more bedroom adventures and so takes to his new role with gusto. There is to be quite a bit of `gusto' there after especially when he meets his true love. That is the very beautiful Gabrielle d'Estrees (Chloe -I don't mind getting my kit off- Stefani).
This is a long tale and was originally a German mini series with some co production from France, hence the mix of German and French actors. Some of the French is therefore dubbed, but I did not really notice and the rest is a mix of French, Italian and Latin. There is marvellous attention to detail with lovely touches like folk letting their pigs snout in the filth of the Paris streets. There is a large cast and more plot twists than a Victorian melodrama, but this is based on recorded history and so it all hangs together rather well. There are some over the top performances, but generally it is all well above average. Where it loses (Deutsh) Marks (rubbish pun) is on the battle scenes, I am quite sure there would have been more men on both sides for these major `battles'. Also there is one battle where we view it from inside a tent, now that is really scraping the barrel for money saving in a film and did spoil things a bit. This though is not an action film, but more a story of political and religious intrigue as well as tolerance, love and betrayal. There is a fair amount of blood letting but it is non gratuitous as this was made for TV.
Director Jo Baier has done a good job and managed to hold my attention for the entire run of 157 minutes, but I did watch in two sittings and that might have helped. However if you like a costume, history based film then you really can't go wrong with this truly European offering.
Review first posted on Amazon.co.uk
I am afraid that I will have to both agree and disagree to some extent with many of the previous reviewers. I do agree that "La Reine Margot" (1994) from Patrice Chéreau was better by far than this film. However, the latter covers (or tries to cover) the whole life of Henri of Bourbon, who became King of Navarre in 1572 after the death of his mother Jeanne d'Albret, and then King of France after the assassination of Henri III, the last living son of Catherine of Medici and Henri II. The former focuses on a single episode - the massacre of the Saint Barthélemy - and what happened a few months before and a few months afterwards.
Neither film is historically accurate, but Henry of Navarre is - by far - the worst of the two. There are several reasons for this. "Le Reine Margot" is based on the historical novel of Alexandre Dumas, the French Conn Inggulden of his time, if I can make such a comparison. In other words, it is based on a piece of historical fiction where the background is generally accurate even if some elements - such as the role played by La Mole (the Hughenot hero, who really existed, by the way) - are mostly the result of the author's imagination. I have no problem whatsoever with this, since "La Reine Margot" does not pretend to be historically accurate. On the other hand, "Henry of Navarre" is portrayed as being his "incredible true story" and this is where the problems begin.
First, the scene with Nostradamus coming up with his prophecy is made up. Nostradamus, at the time, lived in Paris and worked for Queen Catherine of Medici. That he would have travelled across the whole of France to see the son of his patron's mortal ennemy (Jeanne d'Albret) is somewhat unlikely, to put it mildly. Then there is the fact that Jeanne d'Albret was poisoned, allegedly by a pair of gloves that Catherine had given her. This is, at least, what the Hughenots believed at the time, including Henri. There is nothing about this in the film, neither is there anything about Catherine's (rather well deserved) reputation of using poison to get rid of her opponents. Why did Henri and the Hughenots nevertheless accept to come to Paris despite their (very strong) reservations? This had partly to do with Admiral de Coligny's very good relations with Charles IX, who called him "his father", partly with the fact that the King had given them all safe conduct for them to attend Henry's wedding with Marguerite de Valois (the "Reine Margot" of the other film) and partly because anyway the Hughenots wanted and needed peace for they were losing the war against the Catholics. Apart from the wedding celebrations, the other elements, which had little to do about noble interests, are simply not mentioned. The piece on the actual massacre of the Saint Bartholomew is more or less ok. Marguerite de Valois did in reality obtain Henry's life from both Charles IX, who was circumvented by his mother, and from Catherine and Henri did escape the massacre by taking refuge in the King's appartments. It is very, very doubtful that he went searching for his friends across the streets of Paris and much more likely that he never left the Louvre that night or the next morning. Henri de Guise, the main organizer and perpetrator of the massacre, got what he wanted: the life of Coligny whom he rended responsable for the assassination of his own father (François de Guise) almost ten years before. This is also omitted, despite being quite revealing because vengeance triggered the Saint Barthlémy massacre at least as much as religious differences. This was a "good old" blood feud which was made worse because the three forces (the Hughenots, the Guise, and Catherine and Anjou) were battling each other to establish their dominance over the weak and influençable Charles IX. Catherine allied herself with Guise because she feared that Coligny's influence over the King, her son, would replace hers.
Then there is the aftermath. Henri of Navarre was a prisoner in the Louvre. He did escape, but I seem to remember that it was before the death of Charles IX (and whith his help) rather than after his death two years later in 1574. Then you had a few years of desultory warfare with the South Ouest of France and Languedoc being largely - but not entirely - dominated by the Hughenots and the rest of the country in the hands of either Henri III or of Henri Duke of Guise and his brothers (the Duke of Mayenne, who makes a fleeting appearance in the film, and the Cardinal de Guise, which we do not even hear about). In 1580, Henri III (former Duke of Anjou) sent Joyeuse, one of his favorites, who, by the way, was one of the best swordsmen of the Kingdom and not only the vain and effeminate dandy that his portrayed to be in the film. Joyeuse was put in command of the royal army and sent after Henri of Navarre who had been making inroads. This largely happened under the pressure of the Guise faction who were accusing the King of going "soft" on the Hughenots and of being incapable of beating them. Joyeuse lost the battle at Courtras and got himself killed. Then there was a further period of eight years which are entirely ommited from the film until the year 1588 when Guise organized an insurrection and Paris rebelled in favor of his "Ligue", chased the King from Paris and obliged him to take refuge at Blois when he started to gather an army to retake his capital. As Henry of Navarre was also around with his army, Henry III and Catherine gave safe conducts to the Guise Henry and the Cardinal) to come to Blois where they had them assassinated. So, contrary to what the film shows, Guise was not killed in Paris and Catherine, who was fatally ill at the time, helped out her favorite son one last time by providing Guise with one of her ladies in waiting for the night prior to the assassination, to make sure that Guise would not change his mind and flee. Then there are a number of other episodes missing. In particular, the battles that Henry of Navarre had to fight after the assassination of Henri III (his murder, at least, is part of the film) at Arques and at Ivry against the League's army lead by Mayenne, the last of the Guise brothers. Later on, after Henri had become King (and become a Catholic again), there were a number of conspiracies to assassinate him, all of which were more or less backed by Spanish gold, including one by Biron, whom Henry had made a marshal.
There are some good pieces, however, such as Henry's love relationship with Gabrielle d'Estrées and his marriage with Mary of Medici. This was, as always for royal weddings at the time, a marriage of convenience. In this case, the incentive on the French side was the bride's huge dowry at a time when the King's coffers were empty and the country impoverished by 30 years of on and off civil war. Gabrielle was poisoned, as shown in the film, but there were quite a few people who had an interest in doing the deed. The culprits were never publicly named.
Another claim made by some reviewers about this film is that it is "well acted". The least that can be said here is that some actors have be asked to play roles for which they were not entirely suitable. Charles IX, for instance, was 22 at the time of the Saint Barthélémy massacre. Henry of Navarre was 19. Neither actor, whatever their qualities, looks young enough to play the part. The actor impersonating Anjou/Henri III makes him look like a coward and a whimp: he was neither. The actors playing Henri de Guise and Catherine de Medici do not even look physically alike their characters (neither does Charles the Ninth, by the way). Julien Boisselier as Henry of Navarre seems to be in his mid thirties to mid fourties all through the film (Henry was 57 when he was kniffed by Ravaillac) and, apart from a bit of white at the temples, he simply does not seem to age during the film. Daniel Auteuil playing Henry of Navarre in "La Reine Margot" also did not look like being 19 years old. However, Guise, Anjou, King Charles IX and Catherine were all much better.
Amusingly, the "boobs" pieces are perhaps among those that may be the most accurate although, even there, Henry of Navarre's appetites seem to have largely developed after the Saint Barthélémy massacre, rather than before. The scene of Henry looking under the skirts of paysant girls in echange of a coin is, of course, made up. Note also that the nobles at the time had rather loose morals, although the Hughenots perhaps somewhat less than the Catholics. Henri de Guise was also known as being rather over fond of the ladies, for instance, and the two Henries were far from being the only ones. As another reviewer mentioned, even if somewhat inelegangly, Marguerite de Valois (the "Reine Margot") was a bit of a slut, buth then she had excuses: her brothers were not exactly pure little flowers and there were at least rumours that they had had sex with her, or even raped her. Anyway, she was the mistress of Henri de Guise just before she got (very unwillingly) married to Henry of Navarre. As for Gabrielle (and all of the other noble mistresses which are not mentioned in the film), she was, at least initially, in for what she could get out from the King: money, titles etc..., although, after a while, their might have been mutual love between the two. There certainly was on Henry's side. He may have developed some affection for Marguerite of Valois also, although he did lock her up and never forgave her for knowing about the St Barthelemy massacre and not warning him in advance. He, rather understantably and unsurprisingly, felt that he could nver trust her again. This is something that the film shows rather well. Henry's relatioship with Mary of Medici was not a happy one, as very well shown in the film. However, that the Florentine princess would chase him around and hit in his mistress' room is somewhat difficult to believe, to put it mildly. What is correct, however, is that Henry delayed her coronation for a long time, and was assassinated shortly after it had happened. Hence the film's suggestion that she might have had something to do with it, but nothing has ever been proven and there was a rather large number of other powerful people who could have been behind the plot anyway.
Given all this, I am afraid that I cannot share the other reviewers' enthusiasm for this film. I did not like it and I therefore cannot really recommend it. A pity, because it could have been much, much better...