The Princess of Montpensier (15)

Starring: Mélanie Thierry, Lambert Wilson

Adapted from Mme de La Fayette's 1662 novel, this complicated but riveting love story unfolds against the backdrop of France's savage wars of religion.

Its eponym is Marie de Mezieres (Mélanie Thierry), a spirited young heiress married off by her father to the Prince de Montpensier, despite being in love with his cousin the Duc de Guise. The centre of the film, however, is occupied by a war-wearied nobleman, Chabannes (Lambert Wilson), one-time mentor to the Prince who now entrusts him with the education of his wife; the conversations between tutor and the coltish princess, encompassing poetry, philosophy, faith and astronomy, lend an unexpectedly cerebral dimension to what might have been a mere court intrigue.

The film examines the idea of a young woman struggling for independence in a society that reduces her to a chattel – a wedding night scene plays as a groteseque charade – and the cynical machinations of men that would perpetuate the system. In the pivotal role of Chabannes, an honourable man doomed twice to fall between opposing forces, Wilson gives a magnificent account of a public renegade and secret romantic. Bertrand Tavernier, in his 70th year, directs with the energy and panache of a much younger man.