Johnny Depp plays a French king in Cannes Film Festival’s controversial choice for its opening night film.
In his first major role since winning his defamation trial against Amber Heard, Depp speaks French with an unusual accent (supposedly accurate for the time), but brings little of the playful mischief audiences have come to expect from him.
French actress Maïwenn directs and co-stars as Jeanne, the real-life prostitute who worked her way into the 18th century court of Versailles. After becoming the mistress of a nobleman, she’s sent to meet King Louis XV (Depp), and is prepared for his bedroom – medical examinations included.
Bold and outspoken, Jeanne soon charms Louis and is invited to stay in Versailles. But not everyone is happy about the match, including the young Marie Antoinette (Pauline Pollmann).
It’s an intriguing story that coasts along thanks to interesting historical details, such as the King’s elaborate morning routine and the importance of shuffling away from him without turning your back.
Jeanne flirtatiously refuses to do the latter, and it’s one of the few moments of connection between the two lead characters.
Otherwise, Depp’s Louis strides around in court, saying words that are needed to advance the plot, but with little conviction or spark.
Very unusually for a French film in Cannes, there are no actual sex scenes: this cuts away demurely before the deed is done.
It’s tempting to wonder if that’s a feminist statement, but Maïwenn has been outspoken against feminism, and while Jeanne is empowered, she’s the only interesting female character in this film – King Louis’ disapproving daughters simper and bicker like the Ugly Sisters.
The movie is certainly decorative: Jeanne is painted as a fashion trailblazer who wears stripes and – gasp – men’s attire in court. But these modern touches are undermined by a plodding pace and two-dimensional supporting characters.
Jeanne du Barry isn’t dull, or a disgrace. But it’s more of a curiosity than a must-see, and certainly not Depp’s finest hour.
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