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Having just finished reading a great new combined biography of Marguerite de Valois and Catherine de Medici (The Rival Queens: Catherine de’ Medici, Her Daughter Marguerite de Valois, and the Betrayal that Ignited a Kingdom by Nancy Goldstone), it was a good time to finally sit down and watch Henri IV (2010), a biopic about the Renaissance king of France. He famously married Marguerite, aka Margot, in 1572, then four days later followed the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in which thousands of Protestants were killed across France. You probably know this story from seeing the movie Queen Margot (1994), and yes, I’m going to compare the two movies against each other during Snark Week.
While Queen Margot focused on Marguerite, Henri IV focuses more on Henri — but not completely. Margot and her family (mother Catherine de Medici and brothers Charles IX and Henri III) are also key characters. Unfortunately I’ve only been able to find the movie in its French language version, without subtitles; while my French is pretty good, it’s hard to keep up with rapid-fire dialogue, so I know I missed a lot. (The film was an international production, with every actor speaking in their own native language, then German- and French-dubbed versions were released in those countries.) (Now I’ve just found it on YouTube with English subtitles, so you should be able to avoid this problem!)
I will say that Henri IV does a better job contextualizing the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre than Queen Margot. In QM (which is an adaptation of a 19th-century novel), the massacre seems to come somewhat out of nowhere. Henri IV makes it clear that the Wars of Religion have been going on for some time and the Protestants are a clear threat to the Catholics.
On the other hand … in reality, Margot and Henri were raised together from childhood into their pre-teen years. When they married, it was kind of like marrying your annoying kid brother/sister. They were never into each other, and despite Margot eventually endeavoring to capture her husband’s interest, he was far more into his various mistresses. In the film, however, apparently the two have never met until just before their wedding, and then they have Really Hot but Ludicrous Hate Sex alllll over the place. Repeatedly. I mean, biting and scratching and hitting while furiously shagging. Oh, and he tells her to show him her pussy, and she thinks it’s hot. I’m not kidding here.
Good-Enough (and Snark-Worthy) Costumes in Henri IV
But, let’s focus on the costumes, designed by Gerhard Gollnhofer and Ute Hofinger … and here I want to talk about the phenomenon of “Good Enough” costuming. Now, this movie isn’t all bad, costume-wise. And I’m sure, as with any production, that they had their budgetary and time limitations. But it felt like they just watched Queen Margot, said “Right, let’s get to work” and made up a few Simplicity patterns.
When we first meet Margot, she’s in her first essentially-copied-from-Queen-Margot dress, this one in red:
Then Margot meets Henri in another red dress:
Now, of course, the dress of the Renaissance is one of the most structured and opulent periods. That means it’s a ton of work to reproduce, the materials cost a lot of money, and the looks are very foreign to our modern day, athletic-wear culture. But what the fuck do those red dresses have to do with real French women’s styles of the 1570s?
Where’s the farthingale (hoop)? The layers? Trim and embellishments? Or gee, does it look like a crappy rip-off of the totally-pared-down style created by Moidel Bickel for Queen Margot?
Christ, at least Queen Margot did it first. I hope they got residuals.
Next, let’s look at Margot’s wedding dress. No, they didn’t directly copy the Queen Margot (1994) wedding dress, which had a whisk (flat) ruff and high neck.
Compare that with what Margot probably really wore to her wedding:
And while I know that kohl existed in the 16th century (see this article at Elizabethan Costume, for example), take a look at Margot’s eye makeup at her wedding:
Next, let’s talk hair. Okay yes, shittily styled hair is THE trend for historical costume movies since the mid-1990s (with Queen Margot leading the vanguard).
The real Margot had dark hair (her mother was Italian, after all). So why is she always blonde in her portraits? Because blonde was fashionable, so she wore blonde wigs!
So actually, it’s kind of cool that when we first meet Margot in the film, she’s wearing a blonde wig! But check it out in all its glory:
Yeah. In this first scene, her mother and brother beat her up for having an affair with Henri de Guise (true story). Here’s how she ends up, and it isn’t much worse:
This photo shows you the most elaborate her hair ever gets — and she’s never shown in a blonde wig again.
THIS IS WHAT WE CALL “DIALING IT IN,” PEOPLE.
What really annoys me is that the filmmakers aren’t total idiots. Here’s how they’re able to dress Henri’s second wife, Marie de Medici:
So, clearly, despite being an intelligent, royal woman with a head for politics who was a leader in fashion — Marguerite is reduced to simply a messy whore. I’m not saying the real Margot didn’t have affairs (she did, many of them). But costume-wise, by dialing it in on her character, the filmmakers have simply shown themselves to be 1) derivative (of Queen Margot) and 2) unable to handle complex characters.
A few more gems:
So, yeah. I don’t know if it’s the budget, or the director, or the producer, or the costume designer, but what an effort. I feel like the phrase “good enough for government work” should be replaced by “good enough for Henri IV.”
Does merely ‘good-enough’ costuming irritate you too?