(L’Anglais et le Duc). Directed by Eric Rohmer, starring Lucy Russell, Jean-Claude Dreyfus, François Marthouret and Léonard Cobiant.
Set during the French revolution, 'The Lady and The Duke' details the friendship between two unlikely allies during a turbulent historical period. The Lady in question is a beautiful Scottish exile, Grace Elliott (Lucy Russell), once mistress to George IV. The Duke is Prince Phillippe, Duke of Orleans (Jean-Claude Dreyfus) and former lover of the noblewomen. She is a royalist, loyal to King Louis XVI; the Duke espouses the new revolutionary ideals, despite being a cousin of the monarch. Using revolutionary France as the backdrop, director Eric Rohmer places a snapshot from this era under the microscope, weaving together the relationship between two idealists.
The story takes place over five key dates in the revolution and the pace is catatonically slow and never picks up any real pace. The interaction between Grace and the Duke pivots strongly on the politics of the day and her efforts to persuade her friend not to vote for the king’s execution. These frequent meetings (and nearly every other occasion) provide the opportunity for bouts of over-acted melodrama from Lucy Russell who spends the entire film crying and getting in and out of dresses.
One of the most promising storylines and dramatic moments of the film fizzles out inexplicably. A local governor, Champcenetz (Léonard Cobiant) arrives as a fugitive and Grace agrees to hide him from the anti-royalists. The ensuing scenes where we wonder if he will be discovered or informed upon are some of the film’s best. The situation causes much strife between Grace and the Duke – that is until Champcenetz disappears with no warning or further mention of his name.
Even though the film is focused on a certain episode, there is little development throughout, as if the premise is too small for a full-length film. The sets were hand-painted, obviously striving for an effect that is not achieved: instead of a lavish Paris in revolt, the result is cheap and annoyingly fake. The French Revolution was a passionate, troubled piece of history; this wishy-washy anathema would work better as a two-part Sunday night TV drama.