CINEMA : Margot: a royal in search of a roll

WITH delicious irony, the great dissection of British monarchy turns out to be French. La Reine Margot (18) is too stately and subtle to be taken as a broadside at our royals, but the House of Windsor must feel some rumbles from its mighty impact . The events are set in 16th-century France, and they show our current royal crop to be mere amateurs in matters of regal decline and decadence. The marriage of religious convenience between the Catholic Margot (Isabelle Adjani) and the Protestant Henri de Navarre (Daniel Auteuil) is, Prince Charles-style, loveless, but also avowedly sexless. When Margot fancies a fling with a commoner (Vincent Perez's La Mole), mere toe-sucking is not enough: she mounts him against the castle wall in full public view.

As for adultery - don't mention anything so tame. We are dealing with multiple incest, rape and murder. The symptoms are more extreme than here and now. But the disease is the same: the dilemma of being royal.

Nowhere is this made clearer than in Isabelle Adjani's mercurial Margot, a royal in search of a role. When we first meet her, she looks to be what Lord Charteris would term a vulgarian - her coarse laughter mocking her own marriage as she eyes up a suitable stranger to spend the night with. Her almond eyes are those of a soul alarmed but also tainted by the hatred around her. As the film progresses, and her love for the protestant La Mole prospers, her character softens and brightens. "One da y you'll know who you are," Henri tells her. Manacled to her royal station, she must constantly re-invent herself. In this tenebrous world, she knows the need to keep bright amid the shadows.

At this point, I'd better put on my galoshes and wade into the gore of the plot. It's 1572. The marriage of Margot and Henri, a ruse to unite Catholics and Protestants, is a sham, designed by Catherine de Medici (Virna Lisi), the effective ruler of state, to wrap up the kingdom for her son, King Charles IX (Jean-Hugues Anglade). The failure of this ploy leads to the St Bartholomew Day massacre in Paris of 6,000 Protestants. That pricks Margot's conscience to attend to the fate of her lover and her husband, both Protestants. Poison and ferocious boar-hunting play their part.

There are twists and turns, and gruesome deaths (a man sweating out his own blood) straight from Jacobean tragedy, and the mood is of the charnel-house. Much of the credit for the disturbing atmosphere must go to Philippe Rousselot's grimly beautiful cinematography. A career of ravishing images, in France (Diva, Trop belle pour toi) and America (Dangerous Liaisons), has established Rousselot as one of the few cameramen with his own palette. Like a bat, he is especially attracted to the dark and to candles. Here, often a third of the screen is convulsed in blackness - in the maw of an empty fireplace or the gloom of the shadows - so that the dark seems poised to swallow up the wretched players on the regal stage.

Rousselot also photographed Interview with the Vampire, which opens next week. It too has a nocturnal splendour, but the light - perhaps because it's a Hollywood film - is softer. In La Reine Margot it is harsh and unforgiving - especially to the faces of its scheming cast. Catherine de Medici is given a skull-like pallor. Dressed throughout in a black dress which covers and crushes her bosom, her hair scraped back under a veil, she resembles a poisonous insect. Nor are we spared the writhing moods of the unstable king (an intriguing performance from Jean-Hugues Anglade, the boyfriend in Betty Blue), which display how the greatest paranoia often springs from the greatest power.

Unsavoury characters scuttle through the film like vermin. A special mention must go to Ulrich Wildgruber's Rene, an acolyte of Catherine de Medici, who specialises in perfume and poison. With his flabby face, balding pate and flustered manner, this dea d ly practitioner is a Gallic Roy Kinnear, and comes to symbolise the blithe cruelty of the court. As Margot asks: "What is betrayal but one's skill at following events?" If the film has a redeeming strand, it is the way Margot finds rapprochement in roman ce, proving the power of people over politics.

Devotees of French cinema may be ambivalent about La Reine Margot. It is sumptuous, accomplished and just a bit empty. We're used to accusing British cinema of doting on the past. Now the tendency has crossed the Channel, with a French-heritage cinema which is largely the creation of one man, Claude Berri (director of Jean de Florette and last year's Germinal). Berri is said to have had a production role in La Reine Margot, but he is not credited as producer. That may be significant, as part o f director Patrice Chereau's achievement is to steer away from Berri's brand of celebratory gentility.

Chereau pitches the film between two poles: the sordid and the ethereal. Between the pomp and hushed beauty of Margot's wedding and the horror of the dead heaped in piles by the roadside, waiting for wagons to carry them to unmarked mass graves (a Holocaust of religious hatred whose contemporary relevance cannot be missed). When Margot saves La Mole, the imagery is of Mary Magdalene lifting Christ off the cross. The achievement of Chereau's film is to reveal the people, in all their squalor and occasional grace, behind the myth of royalty - that, and to make two-and-a-half hours zip by.

We are still in Paris for Killing Zoe (18), and the bodies are still piling up, though this time it is the present day. Directed by Roger Avary, a pal and collaborator of Quentin Tarantino, Killing Zoe feels like a stray tale from Pulp Fiction: perhaps the story of what happened to John Travolta's Vincent Vega in Paris that time he learnt about the metric system and "le Big Mac". Eric Stoltz plays an American safe-breaker who has been hired by French friends to work with them on a bank raid. Julie Delpy plays the prostitute, Zoe, who confuses their plans. Like Tarantino's work, the film is hip, funny (particularly Gary Kemp's cameo as a stupid but effusive gang member), and fascinated by the dangers of taking recreation too far. There is also the same worrying euphoria in violence, without the same acute ear for modern speech. There is a sequence that seems to stand for the whole movie (similar to one in Tarantino's script for Natural Born Killers): a joke told by a gang member which ends in a bloodba th.

Eat Drink Man Woman (PG) is Ang Lee's follow-up to The Wedding Banquet, and takes the foodie theme a course further. It is the story of a great Taiwanese chef (Sihung Lung), of diminishing powers, and his relationship with his three restive, home-living

daughters - a culinary King Lear. The food - dishes such as Dragon Swimming on Yellow Sea (lobster and sliced kiwi - preparation time: six hours) - is mouth-watering. But the constant parallels between food and love are too facile to be illuminating. Th e movie works as romantic melodrama - with a surprise finale - but is more of a starter than a main course. To leave an audience hungry is not always a sign of success.

Nostradamus (15) is a watchable biopic of the 16th-century seer, undeserving of the gales of derision that greeted its press showing. Not enough is made of the story's phantasmagoric possibilities, and we learn little about Nostradamus (Tcheky Karyo), other than that he was ravenous for both knowledge and sex. But we get a glimpse of how his inspiration may have sprung from a mixture of science and trauma.

All F***ed Up (18), now running at the ICA, starts with some gloomy, videotaped views on love, sex and Aids, and grows into a tale of unrequited gay love. It is most effective in depicting a Los Angeles wasteland, populated by rootless, disenfranchised

youth: a world where happiness is not so much an illusion as an impossibility.

Cinema details: Review, page 74. `The River Wild' has been delayed.

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker