A visually experimental but narratively lifeless French Revolution melodrama, "The Lady and the Duke" ("L'Anglaise Et Le Duc") recounts events surrounding Louis XVI's overthrow and the violent underbelly of its aftermath for the upper classes.
Taking a page from George Lucas's playbook, prolific Gaelic director Eric Rohmer ("Autumn Tale") shot the film against blue screens with minimal sets, creating the oil painting-like world in which action unfolds largely through computer-generated imagery in post-production.
But while this high-tech art flick is a worthwhile curiosity on the moviemaking front (its style bears a low-budget resemblance to "What Dreams May Come"), its story is a dull and academic one. It's told almost entirely from inside the soundstagey drawing rooms of English expatriate Grace Elliott (Lucy Russell), a real historical figure who had plenty of opinions but no influence to speak of.
Inspired by Elliott's memoirs, the plot -- if you can call it that -- is little more than a series of long, long, l-o-n-g conversations about the finer points and subtle dangers of Revolutionary politics. Elliott, a Royalist by disposition, is willing to hide overthrown government officials from rampaging freedom fighters.
Her aging former lover, the Duke of Orleans and the estranged cousin of the deposed king (paunchy, jowly Jean-Claude Dreyfus), is a populist. But he's willing to help protect her from the wrath of reformation inquisitors until they turn on him as well.
Uncreatively, almost uneventfully chronological, the film has almost nothing much to offer a viewer who doesn't already have a historian's keen interest in the minutiae of 1792 Paris politics. Even the inventive visuals-- which do effectively give the impression that the characters live inside a spectacular canvas composition -- still look cheap (did Rohmer use low-end digital cameras?) and lose their fascination after two hours of intellectuals debating passionately but politely in overly detailed discourse.
No doubt "The Lady and the Duke" would hold more interest for moviegoers in France or for connoisseurs of French history. But how much more interest is debatable, since the film has all the pizzazz of an overheard conversation between academics in a Parisian cafe. If this picture were about second-tier figures from the American Revolutionary -- a topic I know much better -- I still doubt I'd have found it any more interesting.