Jeanne du Barry

April 18, 2024 by Alex First
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A movie review by Alex First

 A sweeping period drama, Jeanne du Barry covers the rise and fall (predominantly the former) of the primary lover of a former King of France.

Born Jeanne Bécu (Maïwenn) on 19th August 1743, she was the illegitimate daughter of a monk and a cook, brought up by her mother.

Of lowly stock, her road to the king’s bedchamber is an intriguing and circuitous one, marked by her intelligence, artistry and industriousness.

Displaying charm and wit, she longs to climb the social ladder.

Soon enough, she recognises her sensuality and sexuality and becomes a skilled courtesan.

Her benefactor, the Comte du Barry (Melvil Poupaud) grows rich through her amorous encounters.

All the more so when she is introduced by the influential Duke of Richelieu (Pierre Richard) to notorious womaniser King Louis XV. He is played by Johnny Depp in his first French language speaking role.

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It is intoxication at first site and the King quickly declares her his favourite, while she unapologetically ignores propriety and etiquette … and gets away with it.

To show his affection for her, the King gifts her a striking, expensive necklace and an exotic, young black boy.

With the help of his valet La Borde (Benjamin Lavernhe), King Louis moves Jeanne into his Versailles palace, sparking both derision and scandal.

Standing in the way of their brazen love affair are three of the King’s four daughters, who show her ill-will and ridicule.

The arrival of Marie Antoinette (Pauline Pollmann), who went on to become the last Queen of France before the French Revolution, marks yet another tipping point.

As director and co-writer, Maïwenn’s journey to bringing Jeanne du Barry’s story to the screen began after seeing Sofia Copolla’s Marie Antoinette in 2006.

She felt a strong connection to the character played by Asia Argento, but needed to feel confident she could do justice to the subject matter.

That took over a decade, during which she immersed herself into learning more about du Barry.

The movie has been sumptuously filmed in 35mm on location at Versailles, arguably the palace to end all palaces. Having seen it, I can attest to that.

Jeanne du Barry features majestic costuming and production design (it has been richly orchestrated), along with a series of striking performances.

Foremost among them is Maïwenn, who excels as the woman that plays a dangerous game. She displays warmth and wanton abandon.

Benjamin Lavernhe is the master of diplomacy and restraint as the King’s trusted personal attendant.

Depp fares well enough, mostly by virtue of the kowtowing that goes on around him in his role as ruler.

Cinematographer Laurent Dailland has done a fine job capturing the opulence and allure of the palace and the pomp and ceremony that goes on around it.

Jeanne du Barry, the film, is spirited and alluring, a satirical historic drama with flourishes.

Rated M, it scores an 8 out of 10.  117 minutes

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