Review of ‘The King’s Favourite’: pure fantasy | Filmelier

Review of ‘The King’s Favourite’: pure fantasy | Filmelier
Review of ‘The King’s Favourite’: pure fantasy | Filmelier

Period dramas, especially when they tackle controversial figures from history, are inherently fascinating. Or they should be. The King’s Favourite (Jeanne du Barry), which hits Mexican theaters this July 4, at least has the virtue of making its privileged budget go further to fill the eye with a spectacular, appropriate, sumptuous production design. There is not much substance beneath the decoration, however.

Directed and starring Maïwenn (My love), as its original title suggests, the film tells the story of Jeanne du Barry (Jeanne Bécu), a woman of humble beginnings who, through her intelligence and seduction, rose through the ranks of 18th-century French society, becoming a courtesan and lover of King Louis XV, decades before the French Revolution. The point is that, beyond tracing her life from childhood to her fall from grace, The King’s Favourite doesn’t have much to say about its subject. And what it does say may be questionable in light of its creative choices.

The King’s Favourite: superficial portrait of Jeanne du Barry

The film presents us with the humble origins of Jeanne (played by Emma Kaboré Dufour as a child and Loli Bahia as a teenager), and presents us with the argument that her femininity is a double-edged sword: she had access to education in childhood through the kindness of her lord, but as she began to become a woman, his wife feared the temptations that the girl could arouse. Another woman became her enemy, so she and her mother were expelled from the shelter of privilege. Now an attractive young woman, Jeanne learns to use her intelligence and attractiveness not only to survive, but to begin to ascend the social ladder of France, so full of prejudices. From being a sought-after prostitute, to a royal courtesan. The rest, as they say, is history. The problem is that, apart from covering a list of facts, The King’s Favourite doesn’t determine what it wants to be or say about Jeanne du Barry. In theory, the heart of the plot is her infatuation with Louis XV (played in clear but flat French by Johnny Depp, in his first film since Waiting for the barbarians in 2019 and Minamata (in 2020). It should be a torrid love story, full of the jealousy, comings and goings of a lovers’ relationship. However, the decision of casting It’s questionable, to put it mildly. There’s no palpable chemistry between the pair of actors, and with the exception of one scene in the first act, Depp plays the king with a charisma that’s all but a stick (as has been the case with roles this late in his career).

The production design of The King’s Favourite It is impeccable, but the narration does not propose anything (Credit: Cine Caníbal)

On the other hand, The King’s Favourite shows us the repercussions of the relationship between Jeanne and the king, as she is a commoner among a conservative nobility jealous of its customs. The main rivals of the protagonist are not only the other lovers of the king, but the other women of the court who degrade her because of her condition (the controversy with Marie Antoinette is well known, and faithfully recreated here). It is almost a story of women who trample on others, with all the classicism of these bygone times. With scenes filmed in the Palace of Versailles itself, a photography (by Laurent Dailland) that slides through the sets and a slow editing (by Laure Gardette) that allows them to shine, the film inevitably refers to Barry Lyndonthe classic by Stanley Kubrick (one of her key references, according to Maïwenn herself). Only, in comparison, The King’s Favourite pales. Not because of its technical section, which is equally impeccable, but because Kubrick’s film had a purpose: although subtle, it is a satire overflowing with irony about the banal search for power and the stupidity of those who obtain even a little, without being prepared for it. What does it say? The King’s Favourite What about Jeanne du Barry? It merely charts her rise and fall from grace. At least it empowers her along the way: she is not an exploited object of desire, but a woman in control of her body and mind to get what she wants (if anything, it is Depp’s character who is depicted as an object of desire). But it is also not worth watching if she is only trampled on in the process. Nor is it interesting if it has nothing new to say.

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