D'Artagnan's Daughter

Release date: 4th October 2010
Certificate: 15
Running time: 125 mins
Director: Bertrand Tavernier
Starring: Sophie Marceau, Philippe Noiret, Claude Rich, Sami Frey, Jean-Luc Bideau
Genre: Action/Adventure/Comedy
Studio: Second Sight
Format: DVD
Country: France
The words “I shall avenge you” conjure up images of Star Trek, or Dr Lazarus in Galaxy Quest who is farcically tormented by that phrase. Its inclusion at the start of D’Artagnan’s Daughter sets the tone for this luscious period romp through the French countryside. Dumas’ Musketeers ride out again in this adventure. Although their breeches are somewhat straining at the seams these much loved characters of literature are as endearing as their previous incarnations. This time though they have an addition to their number.

The story revolves round Eloise, a young girl living at a convent. She has been left there to be raised by nuns whilst her father D’Artagnan is in service to the King of France.   The convent is disturbed one night by a search party pursuing a runaway slave. The search for him by his pursuers leads to the Mother Superior being killed trying to protect him. Eloise (Marceau) vowing to avenge her death finds a smudged document in the old nun’s personal things. Believing it to be highly important, as lives have been lost for its procurement, she must leave the safety of the convent and find her father the famous D’Artagnan (Noiret). She intends to present him with the paper believing him still to be in service to the young King Louis XIV, and therefore able to help her.   Can Eloise find D’Artagnan and reunite Aramis, Athos and Porthos to save the day and decipher the stained paper?

The film delivers on many levels. Fans of the modern day Hollywood pirate will love it; those who love traditional action romps will also adore it. The script doesn’t take itself too seriously, and instead focuses on delivering story and fun. This isn’t ‘carry on’, though; instead it echoes the balance of early Bond films, with action front and centre followed by entertainment, plot twists and turns. Many little humorous moments are asides, like D’Artagnan’s conversation at the side of the grave of his deceased friend - when he realises he was sitting on his friends head! The audience is in safe hands with Tavernier, the film feels warm and familiar.

Tavernier indulges his audience with long shots of sweeping French landscapes, galloping horses, picturesque castles, heavily wooded glades and beautifully imagined French towns. It is a sumptuous production which is aged only by camera technology rather than production. The cinematography is a joy, and there is a real sense of action and escapism in the film which comes in part from the pace with which Tavernier sets it. The sound of thunderous galloping hooves sets an audible rhythm to the piece, usually closing or opening scenes without a hint of Monty Python.

The costumes, which have such an integral role in any period piece, are also exceptional. Full skirts, which are allowed to become muddied in street fights; and the Musketeers faded breeches and belts, which have seen better times. The villainous woman in red, her role centred on her red costume, frequently enters the scene laden in sumptuous fabric, her menacing appearance seemingly every bit as essential as her dialogue.   The Musketeers are past their glory days, although inexplicably older than they should be. For fans of the original films, seeing the older Musketeers may be something of a wondrous return, but it doesn’t actually deliver all that it could. The physical prowess of the Musketeers may have waned, and certainly much is made of that fact, but their exploits seem hampered often by an overly complicated plot which does not need half of the villainous characters it portrays - the spoilt teenage Louis XIV, quick-witted; sinister Cardinal Mazerin; slave dealer Crassac; and the devious woman in red. Along with these primary villains, there are secondary villainous characters that seem to muddy the waters, and create a somewhat farcical atmosphere of chaos and slapstick. It could be argued that these characters could be halved without very much impact on the narrative, and would in fact aid the audience comprehension.

The father /daughter dynamic between Eloise and D’Artagnan is tricky, and although played well, specifically by Noiret, who shows his experience through the affability he creates, it often leaves an audience wanting some semblance of development or affection between the characters. Although she has been in a convent for most of her life, and Noiret and Marceau play their disagreements with conviction, there seems to be a lack of believability between the two characters, which is a real shame.   Marceau’s depiction of a wide eyed Eloise - although perhaps some might argue she is slightly too old for the role - is delightful. She brings energy to the character. It is well known that Marceau did most of her own stunts in the role, training in swordplay for two months prior to the movie shoot. This could go some way to explain why her rambunctious, cavalier demeanour as Eloise works so well.

The pace of the film often builds up to fight scenes, which don’t seem to have any real bite. This is possibly due to very similar fights, and also the older cast playing the Musketeers. The high energy exertions which are required for believable fight scenes are not matched by these Musketeers echoing their supposed younger days. It is almost impossible to see these men as the canny, heroic, unbelievably dexterous men of Dumas’ books, even twenty years later. Viewers have two choices; to either let this issue glide off them and enjoy the frivolity of the whole film, or get annoyed by the disappointment of these faded idols.

Despite its shortcomings, this is still great fun. It’s a film which will happily reside in any collection and will only benefit from countless viewings. It is a genuine joy, which doesn’t take itself too seriously - a perfect antidote to Hollywood’s on-going love affair with pirates.

Reviewed by Dawn H.


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