On Thursday, July 14th a terrorist drove a monster truck into crowds celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, France. More than 80 people died. The holiday celebrates the storming of the Bastille which is commonly considered to have kicked off the French Revolution. (Even if only seven prisoners were actually released.) In honor of this historic event, and remembering those who died during what should have been a joyous celebration, consider watching one of the following films. We stand with France.
A Tale of Two Cities (1935) Eighty years later, director Jack Conway’s (Northwest Passage, A Star is Born) adaption of the Charles Dickens masterpiece is generally regarded as the best cinematic version of the classic saga. Ronald Colman plays the famous dissipated misanthrope Sydney Carton, Donald Woods the gallant Frenchman Charles Darnay, Elizabeth Allen in the ingénue role of Lucy Manet, and the late great Basil Rathbone as the villainous aristocrat Marquis St. Evremonde.
Start the Revolution Without Me (1970) Directed by Bud Yorkin (Divorce American Style, Inspector Clouseau) this screwball comedy stars Gene Wilder and Donald Sutherland as two sets of identical twins switched at birth. One set is haughty and aristocratic while the other are poor and dim-witted and they find themselves involved in palace intrigue and wacky hijinks right on the eve of the French Revolution. Also starring Hugh Griffith (Ben-Hur, Tom Jones) as King Louis and Orson Welles serving as Narrator.
The Scarlet Pimpernel (1982) Based on the classic swashbuckler of the same name by Baroness Orczy and directed by Clive Donner (What’s New Pussycat? Vampira) In 1792, during the reign of terror, the Scarlet Pimpernel saves French aristocrats from the guillotine while posing as foppish dandy Sir Perceval Blakeney (Anthony Andrews). Percy marries the stunning French actress Marguerite St. Just (Jane Seymour) but her past relationship with Robespierre’s agent Paul Chauvelin (Ian McKellan!) endangers his plans to save the young Dauphin, eldest son of the late King of France. Also starring James Villiers, Eleanor David, and Richard Morant.
Ridicule (1996) Directed by Patrick Leconte (The Hairdresser’s Husband, Girl on a Bridge) and set in Versailles in the late 18th century, and shown primarily through the eyes of minor aristocrat and engineer Ponceludon (Charles Berling), Ridicule shows a corrupt and decadent French court, where social status can rise and fall based on the ability to dole out witty (and cruel) insults while avoiding being the object of ridicule oneself. In one extreme example a nobleman is forced to leave court for the loss of a single shoe and is so distraught he hangs himself. The film won four Cesar Awards including best director and best film.
Farewell My Queen (2012) Directed by Benoit Jacquot (The Wings of the Dove), we see the routines of palace life at Versailles through the eyes of Sidonie Laborde (Lea Seydoux of Blue is the Warmest Color and Spectre) maid to Queen Antoinette (Diane Kruger of Inglorious Bastards and National Treasure). Taking place over three days from the storming of the Bastille to the Royal Family’s (failed) attempt to flee Versailles for Switzerland. It won three Cesar Awards including best cinematography and was nominated for seven more including best actress, best director, and best film.
Top photo: Paris France Palace of Justice, Palais de Justice, is the center of the French legal system. Bigstock photo.