The film opens on a murky forest in 1650’s France. Through some mist we see a slave running for his life from The Duke of Crassac (Claude Rich) and his army. The action moves to a convent where the inhabitants do their best to protect the slave, who is caught and in the scuffle the mother superior is murdered. Training at the convent at the time is Eloise (Sophie Marceau) daughter of famous swordsman D’ Artagnan (Philippe Noiret). Desperate to gain revenge on the Duke, Eloise meets with her father, and after much persuasion father and daughter start cooking up a plan to bring him down, and in the process start to discover his political agenda.
Tavernier’s farce is a curious mix of ideas. There is a nice knockabout stab at sending up the predictable and overly simplistic natural of the swashbuckling genre. The action is tightly crisp, and cheekily slap stick. As D’Artagnan Noiret is like the James Bond of sword fighting, quick witted, camp with smooth one liners, but also a bit of a old ham.
Marceau also shines in the lead role, with an understated vulnerability, she is a very cool presence, however with the epic scale of the film maybe she is a little under used. Indeed with the film having much rambling about things such as poverty, jealousy, and power much of it is reduced to men discussing the plot in long winded ways. It is difficult at times to make out what the true theme is, or to have distinguished characters.
One of the best scenes which kind of set the tone for the early part of the film is when Eloise first comes to her father and almost demands his help, while using her intentions to marry a lowly poet as leverage. It is a sparkling verbal exchange, beautifully paced by both actors which really engages you in the scene and invests you in the story. The film sticks to primary colours such as pale greens, reds and beige, making for a handsome experience instead of picturesque or cinematic.
The action sequences stand out, but what became clear was that the filmmaker was able to keep a tighter leash on the characters when in battle than about eighty percent of other times. So a nice old fashioned romp which will tickle your fancy, but that doesn’t quite take things far enough, or stands out from the crowd.
D’Artagnan’s Daughter is out on DVD tomorrow, 5th October.
Director: Bertrand Tavernier
Cast: Sophie Marceau, Philippe Noiret, Claude Rich, Sami Frey, Jean-Luc Bideau, Raoul Billerey
Runtime: 125 min