First, thanks to www.allaboutwarmovies.wordpress.com for a blog post about the film Henri of Navarre (Henri IV), and secondly, thanks for holding a contest for a DVD giveaway. I won, received the film, and here I am writing a review of Henri of Navarre. This is a wonderful, engaging, and throughly entertaining biopic with just the right balance of history and intrigue, and for French or historical drama film buffs, Henri of Navarre comes highly recommended.
Since this is a biopic of Henri of Navarre, I don’t think I’m giving away too much to say that the film spans Henri’s entire life–from his birth to his death, the highlights, and with battle scenes included, no areas of that life appeared to be stinted. This is, by the way, a German film from director Jo Baier. The film runs to around 2 1/2 hours.
The film begins in 1561 with scenes of a battlefield replete with broken scattered bodies. Most of these very well constructed battle scenes are tinged with a silvery light as if its characters are already assigned to the annals of history. The film’s initial scenes include enough political overture that even those unfamiliar with the time will grasp the political situation. The French court is dominated by catholics with protestants in the minority. France is ruled by the notorious Catherine de Medici (Hannelore Hoger), the widow of Henry II, and there’s a thorn in her side–the small Huguenot dominated kingdom of Navarre which is ruled by the steely Jeanne (Marta Calvo). Jeanne’s son is Henri de Bourbon (Julien Boisselier) destined, of course, to merge both kingdoms through a marriage of bloody convenience.
Early scenes reveal Henri’s childhood under the tutelage of Admiral Coligny, and as Henri grows the religious wars continue. Catherine de Medici eventually sues for peace through an alliance between Henri of Navarre and her tempestuous daughter, Margot (Armelle Deutsch). For anyone who’s seen the film Queen Margot, you will know that Margot did not go willingly to the marriage bed.
Henri’s arrival in Paris in 1572 heralds the beginning of even more action as we see Henri the diplomatic statesman trying to stay alive long enough to escape. I’ve seen many depictions of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre–an event that left 30,000 Huguenots slaughtered in the streets of Paris, but this depiction surpasses all others. Scenes emphasize chaos mixed with religious fanaticism as catholics slaughter Huguenots and leave the streets piled with bodies and streaming with blood.
The Medicis are depicted as a despotic, maniacal lot–there’s the indomitable, bitter Catherine and her three sons–the weak and cowardly Charles IX (Ulrich Noethen), kinky Henry (Devid Striesow) , and Francis the Duke of Anjou (Adam Markiewicz). In contrast to the sadistic despotism and cruelty of the Medicis, Henri is seen as a rational, intelligent monarch ready to accept a pragmatic approach to religion (“Paris is worth a mass“), and although this won him no friends amongst the catholic fanatics, Henri appears an enlightened monarch next to the medievalism of the Medicis.
For fans of French history, the highly entertaining Henri of Navarre is a must-see spectacle. The costumes are sumptuous, the sets are spectacular, and the action riveting. What more do you want?
(Based on the book by Heinrich Mann)