Main cast: Hilary Swank (Jeanne St Remy de Valois), Jonathan Pryce (Cardinal Louis de Rohan), Simon Baker (Rétaux de Villette), Adrien Brody (Count Nicolas De La Motte), Simon Shackleton (King Louis XVI), Joely Richardson (Marie-Antoinette), and Christopher Walken (Count Cagliostro)
Director: Charles Shyer
The Affair of the Necklace is about a scandal that rocked France and is one of the main events that ease the revolution fever into taking hold of the country and introducing the guillotine as the national sport for the next few decades. I really hope that this movie is not based on the life for the real Jeanne St Remy de Valois though. She comes off as a complete dingbat in this movie.
Orphaned as a child when her father was executed for treason, Jeanne St Remy dreams of restoring the Valois name and fortune to the former glory of the bygone days. She marries a count, Nicolas, for a title and spends the rest of her time petitioning the court for the restoration of the Valois name to no avail. It is with gigolo Rétaux de Villette, her lover, that Jeanne hits on a scheme to get the money she needs to restore her old home. The corrupt Cardinal Louis de Rohan is ostracized by Marie-Antoinette for too many reasons and Jeanne offers herself up as Marie-Antoinette’s lady-in-waiting who will then exchange letters from the Queen (forged by Rétaux) to him. When opportunity strikes, Jeanne cons the Cardinal into paying for a necklace which she then takes and fences. When this plot is revealed and the Royal family is drawn into the mess, Jeanne ends up fuelling the country’s dislike of Marie-Antoinette with her lie and sets in motion several events that indirectly lead up to the Revolution.
The thing is, this movie wants me to like Jeanne. It desperately wants me to see her as some misunderstood poor lady. To do so, it portrays her as a victim forced to do the impossible to survive. The other thing is, this movie doesn’t succeed in showing me the extent of Jeanne’s zealousness when it comes to restoring her family name. Our dear comes off as really, really stupid because her efforts only drag the already sullied Valois name deeper into the mud, and for what, exactly? I need to see why family matters so much to Jeanne so that her action makes sense. This movie doesn’t understand that.
I’d actually like and cheer for a Jeanne St Remy that is cunning and devious. Hilary Swank portrays Jeanne with a slack-jawed wide-eyed victim-in-distress air that Jeanne comes off as a very silly girl, out of depths and succeeding only because she’s lucky and Rétaux and Nicolas cover her when she fumbles. Simon Baker, Adrien Brody, and Jonathan Pryce understand what Ms Swank doesn’t – they play their roles with varying degrees of unapologetic smarm that make their roles more convincing in the scheme of things than her poor Little Bo Peep of a Jeanne. While Mr Pryce is deliciously evil as the Cardinal, Christopher Walken comes off as too over-the-top at times.
At the end of the day, this movie compromises itself by trying to make heroes out of characters when there are no need to do so. If it had respected my intelligence and allowed Jeanne to plot and scheme without telling me, “See! She’s actually sweet! And lovely! And nice! The nasty big guys made her do it!”, Jeanne St Remy would be able to better convince me why I should see her as someone in charge of her destiny and root for her. By making her “nice”, this movie turns Jeanne into a very stupid young woman that deserves either my pity or scorn. Probably both.