I’ve wanted to watch 1954’s Royal Affairs in Versailles (Si Versailles M’était Conté) for years because it features so many key figures from French history. But it’s been impossible to find with subtitles (in English or French)! I’m visiting Paris so France is on the brain, and I decided to finally sit down and watch it, whether or not I understand the rapid-fire, super-nasal French (which, nope, about 90% is going right past me).
This movie is a slog, y’all. Because like many of director Sacha Guitry‘s films, it’s not really a story so much as an episodic look at French history — this time, focused on the palace of Versailles. So I’m breaking this post up into two parts, both because mama needs a break from slogging through this history lesson, and because the film is LONG.
Four people are credited as costume designers: Monique Dunan (If Paris Were Told to Us, Napoleon), Alex Papin (Napoleon), Maggy Rouff, and Jean Zay (Ruy Blas).
Today we’ll look at part one (yes, this is one of those films with an intermission), which begins with King Henri IV deciding to build a hunting lodge, through Louis XIII augmenting said lodge into a small palace, and then a whole lot of Louis XIV. I’m going to work through the film roughly chronologically here rather than thematically or whatever.
Let’s start with Henri IV (1589-1610), who’s out riding with his son/heir and decides to buy some land:
Louis XIII (1610-43) talks far too much with an oily Cardinal Mazarin about various things, including his plans to build a small private hunting lodge at Versailles:
Now is where things get vaguely interesting, with Louis XIV (1643-1715), who is played by the VERY handsome Georges Marchal as the young Louis. He augments the lodge into a palace.
Louis marries Marie-Thérèse of Spain, who wears dated fashions and gets dorky music just in case we’re unclear on how excited Louis is about her (not very).
Louis, of course, is far more interested in his various mistresses. First we have blonde Louise de la Vallière:
Eventually Louis throws Louise over for the Marquise de Montespan, played by Claudette Colbert (Cleopatra, Maid of Salem, Drums Along the Mohawk) — who was born in France, but moved to the US at age 3, I had to check!
Louis snags Montespan, and her husband throws a shitfit:
Meanwhile, little episodic things happen, like:
Eventually, Louis ages and is now played by the film’s director, Sacha Guitry:
Montespan gets caught up in the Affair of the Poisons, in which she and many other courtiers were accused of having poisoned and/or used potions on various other courtiers and/or the king. Louis throws her over.
The duchess of Fontanges is somehow involved:
The issue here is that the duchess is SUPPOSEDLY the one who set the style, but her’s was the late 1670s/early 1680s version, which was a lot of ribbons on top of the head. This eventually got tall in the 1690s, but the duchess died in 1681, so I doubt she’d have actually been wearing the prototypical fontange. FYI, she died during the affair of the poisons, and so it was suspected she was poisoned.
I’m not positive what this earlier version would have looked like, but here’s the prototypical fontange of the 1680s and beyond:
Eventually Louis’s eye turns towards the older and pious Marquise de Maintenon, who he eventually secretly marries.
Louis eventually dies, but only after several tedious scenes showing his decline, which I have helpfully not screencapped. I will just point out this wax relief of Louis, which either they borrowed from a museum or made a damn good copy:
Next week, I’ll look at the second half, which covers Louis XV and XVI (and maybe some Napoleon?)!
Have you slogged through Royal Affairs in Versailles?