Aristocratic auburn bombshell Marie de Mezieres (Thierry) has the 1562 French court all of a dither.
She’s the demure calm at the centre of an emotional storm as a procession of dashing bluebloods vie for her hand only to be rebuffed by the class pecking order.
Eventually, by the dubious virtue of an arranged marriage, it’s the decent but dull Prince Montpensier (Leprince-Ringuet) who walks her down the aisle but there’s never more than a tender affection between them.
Her real love – and teenage sweetheart – is the prince’s cousin, the Duc de Guise (Ulliel), a dashing soldier who ignites a real passion but is abruptly sidelined by Marie’s marriage to the prince.
Then there’s the prince’s older tutor and mentor, the Comte de Chabannes (Wilson), a warrior-turned-pacifist who develops a philosophical bond with his fetching pupil…and finds himself under her spell.
And there’s more….
Also giving her the glad eye is the seductively intelligent Duke of Anjou at a time when France is being torn apart by the frequently murderous flare-ups between the Catholics and Huguenots.
Occasionally sudsy but always watchable, the veteran Tavernier’s adaptation of Madame de La Fayette’s novel wears its two-hours-plus running time surprisingly lightly.
Story strands are allowed to develop and characters to breathe as the weight of passion between Marie and the two young bucks ebbs and flows with each cruel deception or loved-up pledge keeping things on the boil.
The playing is universally impressive with Thierry conveying her dilemma: should she prevail as the dutiful wife or surrender to her growing desire and sensuality?