Discovering the French Renaissance through older films
If you’re looking for older films about the French Renaissance, it’s hit or miss outside of streaming services like Netflix. You can check out YouTube, but sometimes there’s a murky question over whether the channel has the right to post a film or not.
I’ve found a few gems, in French with no English subtitles on YouTube. My absolute favorite is The War of Three Henries. The movie isn’t going to win any awards for historical accuracy, but the great draw is the fact that it was filmed on location at Chateau de Blois. Full disclosure: Blois is my favorite chateau, and anything that’s filmed there has my stamp of approval.
Poor Henri III gets a bad treatment, although he’s not as foppish as he usually appears in many other productions. Catherine of Lorraine, the only sister of the 3rd Duc de Guise, has a prominent role, and it’s wonderful to see her in film. I wished they would’ve included her distant cousin, Louise of Lorraine, even if she was relegated to well-dressed scenery.
You’ve probably seen the film version of Queen Margot from the 1990s, but there’s an older version filmed by a French production company back in 1954. The link to the film is here.
For another perspective on Henry IV and his ill-fated wives, you can currently catch Henry IV on YouTube , in French. The movie’s not as visually stunning as either of the Queen Margot remakes, but it does include both Gabrielle d’Estress and Marie de Medici.
Luckily, you can find legal copies of The Princess of Cleves. That’s a relief to me, because I first heard of the movie by watching it on YouTube, and it’s since been taken down. You can order it now from retailers including Amazon.
It’s frustrating trying to find these out of print and hard-to-find films about the era, because the most accessible places usually don’t have legal clearance to post them. Still, if you’re lucky, you can find a few movies that will feed your fix for sixteenth-century French splendor. If all else, fails, Netflix still carries Reign, but if you’re a stickler for historical or costume accuracy, Reign just isn’t your bag.