Shocking massacre

Danny Hammill reviews the film 'La Reine Margot', directed by Patrice Chereau

SOMEWHAT unusually for a mainstream French film, La Reine Margot deals with the subject of a woman coming to maturity, while the men around either succumb to hubris or remain stunted by their poisonous upbringing.

The background is the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 1572, an atrocity which shocked everybody in Europe except the Pope, who threw a party to celebrate it. 6,000 Huguenots were murdered after being lured into Paris for the wedding celebration of Margot, the sister of King Charles IX, and Henri de Navarre, champion of the Huguenot cause in France.

The massacre itself is dealt with superbly: the special effects are graphic and the mass graves are unavoidably reminiscent of Auschwitz.

This film does present one major difficulty though: anyone who does not have a reasonably sound knowledge of the French wars of religion and the endless infighting at the French court might well become quickly bewildered by the very rapid turn of events.

For instance, one of the main perpetrators of the massacre, Henri de Guise, is presented merely as a villain who just so happened to be one of Margot’s lovers rather than the central political figure he was at the time.

However this is more than amply compensated for by a brilliant portrayal of the extremely sinister Catherine de Medici, which almost single-handedly evokes the atmosphere of sickness and malevolence which hangs permanently over the French court.

A recurring theme in the film is the relationship between love and betrayal, and all the major characters are, to one degree or another, torn between these two poles. This is particularly highlighted by Margot’s protracted struggle to discover where her loyalties really lie.

The film is well worth seeing - even if only for the sheer strength of the performances. The tormented Charles IX, the diabolical Catherine and the slowly transforming Margot herself are colourful characters that will linger in the memory for a long time to come - not to mention the truly shocking massacre itself.

Danny Hammill