25 June 2000 | jameswtravers
A wasted opportunity - and there is no excuse for it
It is deeply frustrating that what could, and should, have been a great period drama, with some fine acting talent, should end up a dull, mediocre piece of cinema. The film lacks structure, has a lacklustre script, whilst the acting performances are generally lame and, in some instances, quite awful. There is some graphic and totally unnecessary violence, and vulgarity is used as a substitute for wit. To garnish this unhappy ensemble, the background music is repetitive and feeble to the point of nausea. I couldn't get out of the cinema fast enough.
First, the acting. Uma Thurman appears to be totally miscast in the role of Vatel's secret admirer, and her performance is dull, emotionless and sometimes irritating. By contrast Gérard Depardieu, a great acting talent, is wasted completely. All he is required to do is walk about the sets barking out orders to his servants and occasionally looking a bit miffed when one of the aristocracy gets his gander up. One suspects that he has already realised that the film is a turkey and so feels no enthusiasm to waste his energies trying to lift the film out of the pit of mediocrity in which it is well and truly lodged. And one can hardly blame him.
The film's only saving grace - indeed the only reason for seeing the film at all - is the magnificent depiction of the royal entertainment designed by Vatel. The scale of the activities is quite breathtaking, brilliantly executed, and offers an interesting insight into the life of the royal court at this time in history. Unfortunately, we are not allowed to enjoy the legendary fireworks scene because a servant is brutally and explicity killed in the process. This is probably the one true great moment in the film, but it seems to get in the way of the one piece of entertainment on offer to us and the tragic impact is lost completely.
On balance, it is the ending that is the greatest disappointment. This should be a deeply moving and tragic finale, but it fails completely to have any effect. The film just loses momentum after the fireworks scene and gradually shrivels up to nothing. It looks as if the entire cast and production team gave up and went home early. The final scenes lack any emotional impact or integrity and overall the film appears shallow and insubstantial.
A totally wasted opportunity.