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August 2011

Henry Of Navarre

cast: Julien Boisseliew, Joachim Kr´┐Żl, Hannelore Hoger, Ulrich Noethen, and Armelle Deutsch

director: Jo Baier

148 minutes (15) 2010
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Showbox DVD Region 2

RATING: 6/10
review by Tony Hill

Henry Of Navarre

'History is bunk' - or as Henry Ford actually said, "History is more or less bunk." Even though I failed all history exams put before me, I don't subscribe to that view. We see reflections continually of previous times - not, perhaps, line-by-line, but there in essence. As such, movies based on significant periods of history are always of interest, and Henry Of Navarre (aka: Henri 4) certainly falls in that category.

It features the life of the future king of France, Henry IV, in the terribly turbulent times of mid-16th century religious strife and warfare between Catholics and Protestants ('Huguenots') in France - equivalent to the travails of Henry VIII in England. The main difference being that Henry VIII was the ruler but, initially, Henry of Navarre (Julian Boisselier) was not.

The movie is faithful to the overall historical facts with Henry's confrontations with the simple Charles IX (Ulrich Noethen), king of France, and his powerful mother, Catherine of Medici (Hannelore Hoger). The struggles are two-fold, with Catherine trying to ensure that her Valois family continue to be in charge and that the rebellious Huguenots are put in their place. As part of this plotting, Catherine succeeds in getting Henry of Navarre to marry her daughter Margaret - or Margot (Armelle Deutsch) in Paris. The Huguenot wedding guests - thousands of them - visiting Paris, are murdered in the St Bartholomew Day's massacre.

This is a flavour of the movie 'story' - Wikipedia is a good source of the complicated background to all these events - and more: search for 'Catherine de Medici' and 'Henry of Navarre'. What of this movie? In the most part it is a powerful and dramatic rendition of the story with several battle set-pieces plus some very energetic sex scenes between Henry and Margot. The acting, at times, especially by Ulrich Noethen as the put upon Charles IX, is sometimes a bit over the top but, in general, I felt drawn into the life and times of the period, horrible as they were. In the 16th century, blood was being shed all over Europe in the name of religion: is history bunk?

Eventually, Henry, a pragmatic man, with several changes of religion along the way, becomes King Henry IV of France and starts to unite the religious factions giving all citizens religious freedom in the "Edict of Nantes". He also modernised the country and gave particular help to the ordinary people with their peasant life. None of this is emphasised in the film but eluded to.

Of course, things can't continue for too long in this peaceful way and Henry is assassinated by diehard Catholic supporters. However, he 'lived on' in the shape of his grandson, the Sun King, Louis XIV. This is not a movie for the 'blood and thunder' film fans, with the gory side reduced to the minimum necessary to create the correct violent period atmosphere, but more for those with an interest in history - and fans of Armelle Deutsch, I should think!

In contrast to the theme of the storyline, the film itself is very much a co-operative venture, with German production, a German director (Jo Baier), and German, French and Spanish actors.



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