17 September 2007 | Dan1863Sickles
Exciting, Intelligent, And Unexpectedly Moving Story of the Merry Monarch
Charles II was the most unique king in English History. At the dawn of democracy, his father was executed by Puritan reformers in a great Civil War, and as a result young Charles had a misspent youth like that of any common criminal -- years on the run, a price on his head, living in taverns with low companions and learning to beg and borrow from other kings. Learning to disguise his emotions and trust in no-one, yet also learning to enjoy pleasure as the one sure comfort in life.
Rufus Sewell does an amazing job playing this complex, bitter, loving man, forever both sad and playful, the most notorious yet somehow most mysterious English king. The story covers all of his reign, from 1660 to 1685, and shows not only his relationships with his subjects, counselors, and family, but with the many passionate, demanding, and thoroughly bewitching royal mistresses who filled his days with glamor and amusement and his nights with excitement and pleasure. They range from the wickedly uninhibited, scheming and unscrupulous Barbara Villiers, to the cheerful, fun-loving Nell Gwynn, to the sweet and childlike Louise DeKeroualle. Last but not least, there is the king's own lawful wife, Catherine of Braganza, an extraordinarily resilient and caring woman who changes over the years from being a pitiful foreign outsider at the English court to being a beloved and respected companion of the king.
I have been reading about these fascinating historical personalities for years, and I have to say that by and large the movie captures all of them perfectly. There were moments so right they took my breath away -- the stupid, bigoted Duke of York flying into a religious tirade at the worst possible moment, for example. Or the weak-willed, feeble young Duke of Monmouth, Charles' doomed bastard son, being coaxed into the arms of Barbara Villiers one moment, and into treasonous plots the next, the handsome royal bastard no more than a fly caught in a web of pleasure and power. Or even the very brief scene of Charles' gentle and warm-hearted sister, trapped in a loveless marriage to a French nobleman, being consoled by the greatest king of all -- Louis XIV.
Of course, there were some interpretations I didn't like so much. Diana Rigg was wonderful as the king's fiery French mother, Henrietta Marie, but I think the writers exaggerate her vindictive, bitter attitude, and ignore her loyalty to her husband and son. In real life Henrietta Marie was not just a harpy shrieking for vengeance. She adored her son and took a very indulgent view of his pleasures at court. In her last years, the real Henrietta Marie was more likely to be found playing cards or going on shopping sprees or even indulging in love affairs with much younger men, rather than screaming for more executions and blood.
By the same token, the stunningly beautiful Melanie Thierry turns in an adorable performance as Madame Louise, Charles' passionate and very enthusiastic young French mistress. The real Louise was every bit as innocent and eager to bed King Charles as the film suggests. However young she was, however, Louise was no fool. She didn't need any coaching from the queen on how to look after the king. She made him so comfortable that she remained the favorite mistress until the day he died. Far from being a flighty scatterbrain, she was probably the most sensible and intelligent of the royal mistresses.
The film version ignores all this entirely, showing Louise as a clueless blonde with the mentality of a six year old. The real Louise was dark, with lustrous black hair and a pleasingly rounded figure that grew increasingly plump across the years. But it's most unlikely that Queen Catherine ever had to sit her down and lecture her on the right way to mother Charles. More likely it was the other way around, for the queen herself always referred to Louise as a "kind friend" and in fact often used to go to Louise for comfort and advice when she was feeling low and dejected in her later years.
In the last few years many saw Louise as almost something of a queen in her own right, able to dispense great wisdom while making the careers of many statesmen. When Charles was dying, she was the one who held his hand to the end (while Queen Catherine was rubbing his feet) and she also made sure he had a priest to confess to, since in his heart he had always been a loyal Catholic. It's a shame none of Louise's deeper shrewdness and strength comes across in the final segment of the film.
Yet on so many levels this movie is a masterpiece. THE POWER AND THE PASSSION tells the amazing true story of England's King Charles II with flair and style.