Starring: Hilary Swank, Jonathan Pryce, Simon Baker, Adrien Brody, Brian Cox, Joely Richardson, Christopher Walken, and Hayden Panettiere.
Written by: John Sweet
Directed by: Charles Shyer
Release: December 7, 2001 (U.S.A)
Overall score: 5/10
Brody performance score: 5/10
The Affair of the Necklace is based on real events. If you read through the account of the true story, such as this article, it essentially provides an overview of the film. The main difference is that our central figure, Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Rémy, (aka “Comtesse de la Motte”), is depicted as more sympathetic in the film than she was thought of in real life.
The opposite is done with the character of Cardinal de Rohan, who is shown in the film as a lecherous opportunist who attempts to procure sexual favors from Jeanne (nearly by force), and who harbors an almost obsessive crush on Queen Marie Antoinette. According to most accounts, he was not that dark of a person and was in fact a (consensual) lover of Jeanne’s. He is portrayed by Jonathan Pryce with remarkable skill (as one can usually expect from him).
Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Rémy (portrayed by Hilary Swank) was born into nobility (albeit somewhat scandalously — she was a descendant of an illegitimate son of Henry II). Near the start of the film, we see this way of life stripped from the young Jeanne (Hayden Panettiere), through a series of tragic events.
Essentially, the remainder of her life is spent trying to restore her family’s home (and very name) to its former glory. The two most significant ways she went about this were her marriage of convenience to Marc Antoine-Nicolas de la Motte (a self-proclaimed Count — played by Adrien Brody), and her involvement in what became known as the “Affair of the Diamond Necklace.”
The scandal surrounding the Affair of the Necklace was one of many factors that lead to the French Revolution and Marie Antoinette’s fall from grace.
Adrien Brody is used more as comic relief than anything in this film. Which is nice in a way, since he rarely gets to show his funny side. However, it’s almost as if his abilities are wasted. He’s overqualified for the job, as the old cliche goes.
Casting Brody as the husband in a marriage of convenience may seem somewhat puzzling, as he is quite charismatic and handsome. Count Nicolas De La Motte is, however, a womanizer, so Jeanne maintaining an open marriage with him is done out of necessity. You need someone like Brody for this role, to make it convincing. We love to hate him and hate that we love him.
Overall, Brody did a good job in the role, other than perhaps the accent, though it really wasn’t any worse than anyone else’s. He successfully comes across as both hard to like and charming. I’m not sure how he does that, but it’s a skill he possesses in many of his films.
What I Enjoyed
As previously mentioned, Jonathan Pryce‘s performance is absolutely perfect. I think this is the first role I’ve seen Pryce play that I genuinely hated. Not his performance, but the character himself is particularly loathsome. He seems to be in short supply of redeeming qualities. And yet, somehow, Pryce’s bewildered expressions make you sympathize with him at times… almost.
Simon Baker is also quite good as Jeanne’s lover, Rétaux de Villette (a quite in-demand gigolo). Baker is as charming and cocky as his character needs to be (which is very), yet emotionally vulnerable when called to be. He is also quite an expert at adapting other accents to cover his natural Australian dialect. I’ve always admired this about him. During his turn on the hit television program “The Mentalist,” Baker played someone living in my exact region of the United States. He did the Northern/Central California accent perfectly, and it’s not exactly a common one dialect coaches teach.
Brian Cox is also very pleasant to watch as Minister Breteuil, who also serves as the film’s narrator. Honestly, the narration is one of my favorite parts, because Cox’s delivery is very soothing, like a storyteller at a children’s library.
My Favorite Scene
Easily, the sword fight between Baker and Brody. They are both flawless and athletic in the scene, and clearly trained hard to pull it off convincingly. Brody is a Method actor after all, and I suspect Baker is, too.
What I Didn’t Care For
The Affair of the Necklace is a period piece set in France. Yet, as with most period piece films, it features accents ranging from English (or attempted generic “British”), to “cultured” North American (think John Lithgow or Kelsey Grammar). Only a smattering of background characters ever actually speak French. Rarer still are characters speaking English with French accents.
Watching this film is actually quite frustrating at times, because one can see changes that could’ve been made to improve it significantly. A line here, a shot there and it would’ve been much more effective. The story itself is (or should be) compelling, but something falls flat in the telling.
The casting of Swank as Jeanne was, to me, a rather odd choice. I realize she was a hot commodity at the time, and her presence likely helped the box office numbers. She did a decent job with the material and expressed the proper emotions in quieter scenes, but there are still missing pieces. We, the viewer, don’t feel invested in her fate. Jeanne had such a tragic life, so much taken from her, and we don’t care as much as we should.
What Bugged Me Most
Christopher Walken does his usual scenery chewing here as Count Alessandro di Cagliostro (a self-proclaimed mystic of sorts). To be honest, I’ve never quite understood the acclaim Walken receives. He is fun to watch, with his quirky manner of speaking, and is charming in his way, but I don’t consider him the great thespian so many present him to be. Now, in all fairness, the character himself is a bad actor. He’s a swindler presenting himself as a gifted psychic.
Honestly, unless you’re a big fan of any of these actors (as I am), or are interested in learning more about the event itself, I would say it’s not really worth your time. The costumes and sets are very impressive, and some moments are fun, but generally, it falls short of what it could have been.