Without “Queen Margot”, directed by Patrice Chéreau, “GOT” wouldn’t have existed. Seventeen years before “Game of Thrones”, Patrice Chéreau already laid in 1994 the foundation for a decadent, almost gothic period film, mixing love, sex, violence, politics and betrayal. Blood runs through “Queen Margot” and the mad violence that runs through the film makes it a cruel tale and an ancient tragedy.
The story of “Queen Margot” begins on the 18th of August, 1572 with the wedding of Catholic Marguerite de Valois – daughter of the late King Henri II and Queen Catherine de Medici – to the Protestant Prince Henri of Navarre.
The wedding’s atmosphere is heavy, filled with animosity between the Catholic and Protestant guests.
The atmosphere is heavy in Margot’s family too, be it her brothers (one of whom is king) or her mother, all scheming to ensure their stranglehold on power against the Protestant party led by the powerful Protestant leader Coligny on the day of the wedding.
Margot, who is not in love with her husband, wanders the streets of Paris with a mask hiding her identity on the very night of the wedding in search of a fleeting lover. She finds him in the beautiful lord of La Môle, who doesn’t recognize her.
The wedding, surely unusual due the different faiths of the bridal couple, would tragically be named the “bloody wedding” a few days later. The attempted assassination of Coligny became the notable event triggering the massacre carried out on 24 August 1572 by the Catholics on the Protestant nobles who had come to Paris for the wedding. The massacre was ordered by a delirious King Charles IX under the unhealthy domination of his mother, Catherine de Medici. The Louvre is showered with blood.
On the tragic night of Saint Bartholomew’s Day, Margot sees a Protestant nobleman taking refuge in her room. It is none other than La Môle, who now recognizes her.
A passionate love is born, and even death could not separate them.
On its release, “Queen Margot” creates an earthquake: Patrice Chéreau, who comes from the world of the theatre, succeeds in the considerable feat of filming theatrical cinema – or cinematic theatre, I don’t know – and this tonality obviously gives a powerful and dramatic echo to a plot that becomes a tragedy.
Beyond the theatricality of this work, it is the brutal violence and massacre that takes place on Saint Bartholonew’s Day that strikes one’s mind. Patrice Chéreau wanted to make a film about religious wars by inevitably evoking in the viewer’s conscience the Holocaust, the Yugoslav conflict, or the Rwandan genocide.
To bring this film to life, Chéreau was notably inspired by Géricault’s painting, “The Raft of the Medusa”, and it is easy to understand why when one knows about this disastrous episode in maritime history. It is tragic, desperate, and human nature does not appear in its best light.
It is the perverse violence of feelings, which are also shocking: Chéreau also takes inspiration from Scorsese’s Godfather to depict these mafia-ridden and poisonous Valois.
Patrice Chéreau has taken great liberties with Alexandre Dumas’ novel, to make Margot the central character around whom revolves all intrigue. These plotlines will end up enshrouding and strangling her. Isabelle Adjani has never been as beautiful, magnetic, powerful, lost, or tragic, as in her incarnation of this Queen Margot. She is swept away by the flow of a story whose course is suspended to the erratic decisions of her brother and conniving mother.
Let’s talk about this mother, by the way, Catherine de Medici. I’ll be honest, Patrice Chéreau does not give her much credit. Virna Lisi, who plays this cruel queen, is simply terrifying, Machiavellian and oppressive. She sells her daughter to the Protestant of Navarre, poisons her opponents, schemes to bring about the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre, manipulates her children and embodies the real power behind the facade.
In all fairness this queen – the real one – has little to do with this imaginary queen.
Her name remains irremediably attached to the French wars of religion and the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre that she ordered with her son King Charles IX. The blood of the Protestant nobles soiled the corridors of the Louvre during that tragic night of St. Bartholomew’s Day, but the murderous madness of the Catholics also lasted several days, spreading throughout France and claiming between 5,000 and 10,000 victims.
However, before this tragic event, Catherine de Medici had long pursued a policy of conciliation between Catholics and Protestants, establishing freedom of conscience for Protestants and calling for civil tolerance.
The marriage of her daughter Marguerite (whom no one at the time called Margot) to the Protestant Henri de Navarre had no other aim than conciliation.
A great politician, Catherine de Medici was also a great patron of the arts – be it literature, painting, poetry, music, architecture or gastronomy. But all this was swept away by a dark tale, rewritten over the centuries less so against her and more so against monarchy in general.
The sorrow felt by Catherine de Medici at the death of her husband, King Henry II, led her to change her emblem to a broken spear accompanied by the motto “From there come my tears and my pain”. This same sorrow led her to dress in black until the end of her life to represent her mourning, whereas traditionally, French queens in mourning dressed in white.
So here I am, dressed in black, in front of the Louvre, which is full of history, to pay homage to this romantic Margot and to this queen Catherine de Medici of flesh and blood – and so little known.
June 4, 2021
Vintage Dior skirt – Vintage clutch
Found at Marcel et Jeannette – Flea Market
Givenchy corset – Jimmy Choo sandals