THE AFFAIR OF THE NECKLACE Send This Review to a Friend
Cherchez la femme. Now we know what caused the French Revolution. It was a woman. At least that's part of the given reason, now immortalized in an old-fashioned, stuffy Hollywood costume drama, "The Affair of the Necklace," based on a famous scandal involving an 18th century schemer named Jeanne de la Motte-Valois. She was only trying to reclaim her family's honor and what she believed was her rightful place in society. But oh you kid. By hatching a plot involving a famous hunk of jewelry, a 2,800 carat, 647-diamond necklace to be precise, Jeanne precipitated a public scandal that reached all the way to Marie Antoinette.
The film is more glass than diamond. It does give a bit more exposure to Hilary Swank on the heels of her "Boys Don't Cry" Oscar-winning success. But artistically, she doesn't cut it, although with this clinker of a script by John Sweet, perhaps no actress could do better. In any case Swank is never convincing as a French woman who could cause so much trouble. Despite her 18th century costumes, she seems out of her element most of the time.
At the outset we see the slaughter of Jeanne's family that left her an orphan, the setup for her eventual campaign to restore the good name of a family descended from the 16th century King Henry II of France. The necklace gambit involved her deception of the ambitious Cardinal Louis de Rohan, well-played by Jonathan Pryce, desperate to get Marie Antoinette to abandon her hostility toward him. In fact, Pryce is about the only key actor who comes off well. Christopher Walken looks laughable as Count Cagliostro in the costume and make-up designed for him but suitable only for Halloween.
Joely Richardson's speech sounds crassly common as Marie Antoinette. Others give performances that can't rise above the dialogue they must speak, including those of Adrien Brody as Jeanne's husband of convenience and Simon Baker as Retaux de Villete, Jeanne's lover and accomplice.
Naturally, much attention is lavished upon the look of the film, from costumes to settings. But nothing can disguise the fact that the material calls for much greater artistry than provided by director Charles Shyer and screenwriter Sweet. A Warner Brothers release.