Si Versailles m'était conté (Royal Affairs in Versailles) (1954)

 

 

 

 

Director:    Sacha Guitry.

Starring:    Michel Auclair (Jacques Damiens), Jean-Pierre Aumont (Le cardinal de Rohan), Jean-Louis Barrault (Fénelon), Jeanne Boitel (Madame de Sevigné), Gilbert Bokanowski (Louis XVI), Bourvil (Un guide du musée de Versailles), Gino Cervi (Cagliostro), Jean Chevrier (Turenne), Aimé Clariond (Rivarol), Claudette Colbert (Madame de Montespan), Nicole Courcel (Madame de Chalis), Danièle Delorme (Louison Chabray), Yves Deniaud (Le paysan), Daniel Gélin (Jean Collinet), Fernand Gravey (Molière).

history of the palace of Versailles from it's founding to the present

 

 

Spoiler Warning:

"One time there was a little Prince, who loved to go riding across the rolling fields of his father's kingdom.  His father was King Henry IV.  The time was 300 years ago and the place was the fair kingdom of France.  

The King says to his son:  "I think we're lost."   So the King asks a local peasant where are they?  The peasant says:  "You're on the hill."  And the hill has no name.  But, the peasant remembers that the family who owned this ground was called Versailles.

The little Prince grew up and became Louis XIII.  One day the King called in Cardinal Richelieu and the Royal Architect.  He tells the two men that he wants a nice hunting lodge on the grounds at Versailles.  He says he only wants two bedrooms.  The King tells the Cardinal that the place will be called Versailles.  The Cardinal asks why put a hunting lodge in such an obscure place?  The King informs him that he wants his hunting lodge kept a secret, mysterious and intimate. 

The hunting lodge itself looks more like a small palace. Louie and his son go out to check out the lodge.  The King tells the Royal Architect that he is extremely satisfied.  Dad asks his son what does he think about the place?  The future Louis XIV says that he would have liked it bigger.  The King tells his son that when he becomes the King, he can then have the lodge made much larger.   

Louis XIV enlarges the lodge into a palace by adding some wings onto the hunting lodge. 

Louie XIV marches into Parliament on the very day his Prime Minister, Cardinal Mazzarin, dies.  He says:  "Gentlemen, as of this moment, I rule alone.  I shall be the law.  Please, bear it in mind."  So the King ruled alone.  And for 54 years he went on building Versailles. It was the job of Colbert, the Minister of Finance, to find new tax revenues to finance the building of Versailles. 

23rd of July, 1666.  Le Noite, the famous landscape architect, was making the King wait for him until the gardens were completely ready to be viewed by the King.  Finally, the King gets the okay to come look at the gardens. 

Versailles opens its doors.  The King displays Versailles to his wife Maria Theresa of Spain.

The narrator says that there's always one witch in every fairy tale.  The witch in this tale is the beautiful Madame de Montespan.  The Madame bewitched the King. 

The King goes to see one of his mistresses, Louise de La Vallière.  Madame de Montespan asks to come in and see Louise.  Louise tells her servant no, but the King says let the woman come in.  Madame de Montespan comes in and starts telling the King the latest gossip.  Not long afterwards, the court is surprised when the King makes an appearance with the Madame on his arm.  And the woman's husband is especially displeased at the sight of the two together. 

When his wife returns home, Montespan says he does not appreciate being made to look like an imbecile.  She replies that she has just increased their capital at the court.  His wife, after all, is a favorite of the King.  She tells him not to interfere in this affair.  He should stay in the background.  Be discreet because his betrayal is not an ordinary one.  The husband leaves and goes to see the King. 

The King berates Montespan for shooting off his mouth.  He says the husband is compromising the lady that the King has chosen.  "You sully her, and, I wish her name henceforth to be free from all blemish."  So Montespan will be thrown in the Bastille for awhile. 

Madame de Montespan tells the King that she loves him.  She also confirms that she is now with child.  She leaves. 

Now the Queen comes in to say goodbye to the King.  The Queen is once again with child too.  The King says he's pleased. 

The King meets with his military staff.  One of those men is the Comte d'Artagnan. 

The King's triumphal return from the wars marked the summit of the royal power.  This was the Golden Age of France. 

The features of the King grow heavy.  Henceforth, he will have to thwart the projects which other European nations are plotting against him.  And now he has to quell a scandal.  Colbert tells the King that the King's favorite received a notorious poisoner known as Lavoisier, who was secretly brought in by the Contessa de Soisson.  Madame de Montespan confers with two other women on some infamy being prepared.  The scandal came to be known as the Affair of the Poisons.  Its effects would reverberate for some thirty years. 

Louie himself is the source of the Affair by allowing his eye to fall upon a young woman.  The King makes the young woman a Duchess.  Madame de Montespan wants the woman out of her way.  For that she will use the poison of the white powder.  But Lavoisier is arrested and Versailles thrown into a panic.  Lavoisier is beheaded and Madame de Montespan is brought before the King. 

Madame de Montespan cries before the King saying that the accusations are all lies.  The King says he abhors her crying.  He tells her to compose herself and think of her dignity.  She is accused of excessive gambling, receiving the sorceress Lavoisier and having participated in four black masses.  Furthermore, she administered a so-called "love potion" to His Majesty, in order to gain more of his favors.  And that's not the worst of it.  The worst is her obtaining a poison and hiring someone to poison the King. The King says that he's imprisoning Madame de Montespan for a very long time.   She will be exiled to the attics of Versailles. 

The King calls in Madame de Maintenon, who looks after the King's children by Madame de Montespan. This is the first time he gets a really good look at Maintenon.  He likes what he sees.  He explains that she will be in charge of the children, but they are only rarely to visit their mother so that they forget the woman entirely. 

The Queen having become a virtual ghost, the King marries again secretly.  He marries Madame de Maintenon.  The bitter-sweet marriage went on for 30 years.  He tells her that she wasn't fitted to be his wife.  He says they are so boring that they have become bourgeois. 

The King's health takes a turn for the worse.  He dies.   He had not funeral procession, leaving Versailles by night. 

June 1775.  King Louis XV takes up residence in Versailles.  The people adore him and call him "Louie, the Well-Beloved".  He presents his wife, the poor and plain-looking Marie Leszczyńska, daughter of Stanisław Leszczyński, the deposed king of Poland.  He presents a beautiful lady with the town of Pompadour and she becomes known as Madame de Pompadour. 

The King remarks to Madame de Pompadour that the Versailles Palace is too lofty, too heavy, too gilded. He prefers the Trianon.  [Le Grand Trianon is a palace near Versailles, while Le Petit Trianon is a château near Versailles.]  He says it will be more congenial for romance. 

July 3, 1775. The King throws his infamous Black and White Masked Ball with the men dressed in black and the women in white.  The attendees were to try to guess who was the King and who was Madame de Pompadour.

Madame de Pompadour tells the King that she feels she is losing his love.  He says that he still loves her, but Pompadour says for one to say I still love you, means that the person loves the other less.  He says an even worse to her then, when he tells her he is very attached to her. 

The Queen speaks to Madame de Pompadour, saying:  "It seems there's nothing left for us but to disappear."  Pompadour replies:  "In that case, after you, Madame."  They both leave. 

Louis XV dies of a contagious disease. 

Twenty years later, and for the last time, Versailles was roused from its slumber by the accession of Louie XVI.   His wife was Marie Antoinette.  She built a delightful hamlet at Versailles.  She and her staff masqueraded as peasants and milkmaids and played hide-an-seek and other games.  This idyllic setting was upset by the Affair of the Necklace, of which the Queen was the innocent victim.   The Queen tells her aide to tell Cardinal de Rohan, no.   She doesn't really know him and she doesn't trust him.  A Countess tells the Cardinal that she can arrange a meeting with the Queen.  The Countess then gets a seamstress to play the role of the Queen and the fake rendezvous takes place in the garden in the dark of night.  The Cardinal is tricked by the ruse.  The Cardinal uses part of the time to advance the idea of an extremely expensive necklace that the Queen herself could not afford.  The Cardinal buys the necklace himself.  He then gives the necklace to the Countess.  The Countess gives him a forged signature of the Queen on a document saying that the Queen will repay the money for the necklace to the Cardinal. 

The Countess has the necklace, but the Cardinal thinks the Queen has it.  The farce is revealed to the Queen when a man gives a thank you letter supposedly given by the Queen to the Cardinal for his having purchased the expensive necklace.  The Queen burns the letter, not knowing if the letter was an insult or a joke.  The messenger is told that the letter was not written by or signed by the Queen.  The King conducts an inquiry on the affair of the necklace.  He figures the culprit is the Cardinal, who can only say he doesn't know to three questions put to him about the affair.  He honestly doesn't know, but the King tells him to prepare himself for the harshest of punishments.  The poor Cardinal doesn't even get to defend himself. 

In the Cathedral, the King has the Cardinal arrested. 

A man named Beaumarchais comes to play a key role in the affairs of the Americans.  Benjamin Franklin of the United States visits the Court.  Meanwhile, Beaumarchais goes to see the King.  He wants the King to intervene in the revolutionary situation in the USA, giving the rebels arms and gunpowder, but the King refuses to let Beaumarchais have 20,000 rifles and lots of gunpowder.  The King's adviser tells him the Beaumarchais is wrong when he says that one day the United States would  be able to repay us. 

Nevertheless, Beaumarchais gets a wealthy Frenchman to present the Americans with 200 cannons, 30,000 uniforms, 27,000 muskets and a 600,000 franc advance on a 6 million franc loan.

February 6, 1778.  A treaty for trade, alliance and friendship is signed between France and America and the King of France receives Franklin.  Franklin thanks the King for the treaty. 

Revolutionary fever spreads in France among the people.  A crowd of people marches on the Palace of Versailles.  They push through the gates of Versailles.  One woman goes in to see the King.  The woman says that the people want bread.  Then she faints and falls to the floor.  She recovers and says she will tell the people that the King is going to give them bread. 

The woman comes outside and tells the people and they just laugh at her and the King.  The King has to leave in the dead of night to get away from the mobs of people.  He meets his doom at the guillotine. 

And Versailles went back to sleep.   And it slept heavily until the arrival of Napoleon Bonaparte. 

The new King of France signs a document:  "We, Louie Philip I, King of the French, do decree and order that as of the first of September 1833 the chateaux of Versailles shall become a museum consecrated to all the glories of France."

A museum guides takes the people around showing them rooms of the palace.  They come to the famous Hall of Mirrors.  Here Clemenceau, the Tiger of France, presided over the Treaty of Versailles ending WWI. 

The museum guide imagines he sees all the famous characters that had a part in the history of Versailles coming down the most famous staircase in the world  at Versailles.

 

Good overview of the history of Versailles from King Henry IV to Clemenceau and the Treaty of Versailles.  The picture is in black and white and is of poor quality.  So you can't imagine the real grandeur of the Palace of Versailles, even though the movie was filmed at Versailles.  [You can take virtual tours of the palace and its grounds on the internet and get a much better idea of the grandeur of the place.]  But the film does cover the history of the  place pretty well.  The film has a huge cast with some famous actors, including the Americans Claudette Colbert  (as Madame de Montespan) and Orson Welles (as the narrator). 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

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