L' Anglaise et le duc (Lady and the Duke) (2001)

 

 

Director:   Eric Rohmer

Starring:  Jean-Claude Dreyfus (Le duc d'Orléans), Lucy Russell (Grace Elliott), Alain Libolt (Duc de Biron), Charlotte Véry (Pulcherie, the Cook), Rosette (Fanchette), Léonard Cobiant (Champcenetz), François Marthouret (Dumouriez), Caroline Morin (Nanon), Héléna Dubiel (Madame Meyler), Laurent Le Doyen (Section Miromesnil: Officer), Georges Benoît (Section Miromesnil: President), Serge Wolfsperger (Section Miromesnil: Aide), Daniel Tarrare (Justin the Doorman), Marie RiviPre (Madame Laurent), Michel Demierre (Chabot).

French film.

 

This movie is based on a true story about Grace Elliott, a Scottish courtesan who was a resident of France when the French Revolution occurred.  

This film certainly has a weird look to it.   Rohmer used blue screens with superimposed backgrounds from Romantic paintings and drawings of 18th-century streets and roofscapes.  Especially hard to get used to is the static backgrounds and foregrounds with only the movie characters moving about the streets and roads. And the movie is in French with English sub-titles.  I can't say I thought the film was good, but maybe o.k.  It does give one a little idea of the fear engendered in those subject to the ire of revolutionary fervor. 


Grace Elliott was the mistress of Philippe, the Duke of Orleans.  They have stopped being lovers, divided by different views of the Revolution.  He tells her she should leave France, while she warns him to quit the Revolution.  She must escape Paris and does so.  In the process she is reluctantly brave enough to save the governor of Tuileries from his appointment with the guillotine. 

The Duke in turn steps in to protect Grace. She wants the Duke to vote to spare the King's life and when  he does not, she is furious. She is arrested as well as the Duke.  The question is, what will be their fate?

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

 

The opening introduces some basic facts about Grace Elliott. 

1790.  One year after the fall of the Bastille.  The Duke of Orleans tells Grace that he saw her daughter when he was in London.  He then tells her to go back to her homeland for the political atmosphere in France is just too dangerous  -- she must go before things really get out of hand.  She stays. 

1792 August 10.  Church bells are ringing.  People are shouting death to Marie Antoinette.  Then news arrives that the Tuileries Palace is on fire.  Grace tries to get out of Paris to her home in Meudon, but all roads are blocked.  So she sneaks through a breach in a garden wall and walks all the way to Meudon. 

1792.  September 3.  Grace receives a note from Madame Meyler.  She urges Grace to return to Paris for someone needs her help.  Grace travels to Paris.  She has to stop to get permission to proceed into the city.  As she travels on she is greatly disturbed by the sites she sees, the most upsetting being human heads on pikes.  She evens knows the identity of one of the displayed heads.  

From Madame Meyler, Grace learns that it is the Marquis de Champcenetz, the governor of the Tulieres, that needs her help.  The Marquis got away from the revolutionary fanatics by hiding among the corpses of the Swiss Guard.  She is a little hesitant to help the man for the Duke hates the Marquis.  But she decides to help the Marquis anyway.  She tries to return to Meudon with him, but no one is being let outside the city.  So she has to do a lot of walking and hiding to get to her and the Marquis to her place in the city.  She has to stay out of sight of the many patrols in the area. 

She and the Marquis arrive at her house and she quickly hides him in her bed in order to the avoid the patrol that does a house search of her home.  The officer in charge tells her that she is suspected of hiding the Marquis.  (Her own household cook had rated on her.)   Fortunately for her, the patrol does not discover the hiding place of the Marquis. 

The Duke arrives to see her.  He tells her that Lafayette has told him to go back to England.  She tells him about hiding the Marquis of Orleans.  He is shocked and upset and tells her that the Marquis had sided with his (the Duke's) adversaries. 

Grace travels with the Marquis to Meudon.  There she receives a note from  the Duke saying that a stage coach traveling from St. Denis will pick up the Marquis and take him to safety in Boulogne.  (Several years later she learned that the Marquis had gotten safely to England.)

1793.  Grace visits with the Duke de Biron who wants to clear his name of certain public accusations.  She mentions that a certain Madame de Buffon had taken her place in the Duke's heart. Also mentioned is that the Duke follows the thinking of Laclos and Merlin. 

Gen. Dumouriez arrives for a visit.  They discuss the possibility that the Duke might vote in the Assembly for the death of the King. Grace says that the Duke has told her that he will not show up at the Assembly during the voting for life or death for the King.  They are soon informed, however, that the execution of the King has been approved by the Assembly by a vote of 361 to 360 and that the Duke voted for death.  Grace is shocked and angry feeling that the Duke has lied to and betrayed her.  The General, who does not like the Duke, says that he might have to take refuge with the enemy in the present climate.  On the day of the execution, Grace is very upset. 

Six weeks later.  Grace is ill.  Another patrol arrives to do a house search.  They go in and out.  Grace has softened in her attitude to the Duke because he has been writing her daily begging her to still be his close friend.  And, of course, since Grace wants to get out of France to go to England, she wants to maintain a relationship with the Duke because only he can secure a passport for her.   She decides to visit the Duke and during the visit she confronts him about his duplicity to her.  He explains himself and adds that in Paris the revolutionary radical Robespierre is all powerful and that she must keep her mouth shut.  Some days later the Duke arrives to tell Grace that it is impossible for her to get a passport. 

Late March or early April.  The Duke visits Grace.  He tells her that when General Dumouriez fled France, his son, who is the adjutant to the General, went with him.  His son's defection had undone all his family's efforts to support the Revolution and now he feels he has no family or friends and is without any reason to live. Grace tries to get him to cheer up without much success.   Before leaving, the Duke warns her that her house will be searched again and that she had better get rid of any incriminating letters or documents.  

A patrol comes to search her house.  They find an unopened letter from one Englishman to another in her possession.  Two officials tell her that this is traitorous and that she could lose her head for communicating with the enemy, England.  She explains to them that the letter is from Mr. Fox who is a true friend of the French Revolution.  But she is arrested.

On trial, the tribunal opens the letter and has it translated into French.  The letter is full of praise for France.  Grace reiterates that Mr. Fox is a supporter of the French Revolution.  They apologize to her and let her go.  But she does not get far, for she is accused of being the accomplice of the Duke, who is under investigation.  Robespierre arrives and asks what's all the fuss about.  He sides with Grace and tells them to let her go home. 

The Duke is arrested.  Philippe d'Orleans is escorted to Fort St. Jean in Marseilles and then back to Paris to be executed on November 5.  Meanwhile Grace has been arrested.  With others arrested, she waited her turn to be executed.  But her turn never came.  The fall of Robespierre set her free. 

 

Good movie because it shows the terror and fear created among the royalists and others by the radical application of the ideas of the French Revolution.  The masses and politicians were loping off heads left and right.  Just being an aristocrat or a friend to the aristocrats was enough to make one a suspect and often a victim of the guillotine.  Grace was guilty of nothing but loving the King and Queen and yet the radicals were going to cut off her head.  Only the fall of Robespierre saved her. 

The movie is a little talky and drags a bit here and there, but that's not a major problem.  The look of the film is very interesting.  For outside shots, the characters are set right in paintings of France streetscapes of the time of the French Revolution.  At times it's a bit weird, but fascinating. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

1754  -- born in Scotland to Edinburgh lawyer, Hew Dalrymple. Her parents separated when she was an infant.

She was placed in a French convent.

1771  --  she made her debut in Edinburgh society and became renowned for her beauty.

1771  --  she married Dr. John Elliott, who was elderly but rich.

1774  --  following a scandal, she fled Edinburgh with Lord Valentia.  Somewhat later, she received a divorce settlement and £12,000 in damages.

Before she could enjoy her settlement, her brother kidnapped her and had her confined to another French convent.

One of her many admirers, Lord Cholmondley, rescued her.

Back in London, she became the mistress of several prominent men.

1778  --  the famous artist Thomas Gainsborough painted her portrait.  (It is now display in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

1782  --  she gave birth to a daughter.

1784  --  George, Prince of Wales, introduced her to the French Duke of Orleans. 

1786  -- she began an affair with the French Duke.  She settled in Paris. 

1789  -- the French Revolution.   She remained in Paris throughout the bloody events. 

The duke sided with the revolutionaries, took the name Philippe Égalité, voted for the execution of his cousin, King Louis XVI.  He also whipped up hatred against Louis's wife, Marie Antionette.  Grace was upset at this behavior for she supported the monarchy and became a devoted follower of the King and his family.  Grace and the Duke stopped being lovers, but remained friends. 

1793  --  execution of King Louis XVI.  Grace was devastated.

Both the Duke and Grace were arrested:  the Duke because of his royal blood (he was descended from Louis XIII); Grace because she was a known royalist, and because she was suspected of having helped a royalist, the Marquis de Champcenetz, escape the death sentence.

Grace shared a cell with Madame du Barry, who had been the mistress of King Louis XV. 

1793 (October 16)  --  execution of Marie Antoinette. 

Grace was released after the death of Robespierre and the end of the reign of terror.  In all she had been in four different prisons.

Rumors had it that Grace had rejected Napoleon Bonaparte's offer of marriage.

1823  -- death of Grace Elliott.

1859  --publication of her autobiographical account of her experiences entitled Ma Vie Sous La Révolution was published posthumously.

 

 

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