Daniel Auteuil and Isabelle Adjani in Queen Margot
I thought I knew enough about 16th-century French history, if only from reading Robert Merle's Fortunes of France books, to follow Patrice Chéreau's Queen Margot fairly easily. But the film's rather hyperactive opening almost kept me in the dark: literally, because it begins with a Protestant man accidentally getting in bed with a Catholic man, and an ensuing fight. Then we shift to the wedding of the Catholic Marguerite de Valois (Isabelle Adjani) to the Protestant Henri de Navarre (Daniel Auteuil), and an ensuing riotous wedding night, during which Marguerite refuses to go to bed with her new husband but, feeling randy, goes out into the streets to pick up a man. The man, with whom she has very passionate sex against a wall, turns out to be the Protestant we saw earlier, La Môle (Vincent Pérez). And when Marguerite rescues him during the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, they begin an affair. But wait, there's more. There's court intrigue involving the somewhat insane Charles IX (Jean-Hugues Anglade); his mother, Catherine de' Medici (Virna Lisi); and his brother, the Duke of Anjou (Pascal Greggory). There's internal and international squabbling between Protestants and Catholics. There are poisonings and boar hunts, and a lot of other stuff. Eventually, I sorted it all out, but it left me feeling a bit overwhelmed. It's beautifully filmed by Philippe Rousselot, and the costumes by Moidele Bickel were nominated for an Oscar. The screenplay by Chéreau and Danièle Thompson is adapted from a novel by Alexandre Dumas, and neither screenplay nor novel should be relied on for historical accuracy. Adjani seems to struggle a bit with the vagaries of her character, whose sympathies shift from Catholic to Protestant and from man to man all too easily. The standout performance is that of Lisi, who was an international sex symbol in the 1950s and '60s, and makes the scheming Catherine a figure of some complexity.