The King Is Dancing


Le Roi Danse (2000) by Gérard Corbiau manages to do what Corbiau’s earlier film, Farinelli (1994), couldn’t: create a lavish historical spectacle without being cringingly cheesy at every turn. It’s really difficult to not compare the two films since the themes are virtually the same: Handsome Italian Musician goes to a foreign court and becomes a sensation, then falls from grace when the king grows bored with him. Epic tantrum ensues. HIM repudiates his oldest ally and friend. Some weak-sauce sex is thrown in for good measure. The end.

Unlike Farinelli, however, Le Roi Danse appears to have benefited from a larger budget and a better script. Also, no mullets.

The film centers on court composer and dance master, Jean-Baptiste Lully, who finds in the young Louis XIV inspiration for crafting the persona of the Sun King. It’s high drama, but it is gorgeous to watch — the emphasis on dance (particularly the mid-17th-century ballet that Louis excelled at) winds up creating a kind of choreography throughout the entire film, particularly in the movements of the two main characters, Lully and Louis. Boris Terral plays the darkly handsome Lully, and he’s far more capable in this role than Stefano Dionisi was as the very similar Farinelli. Benoît Magimel’s Louis was hands down the best thing about this film; he’s gorgeous, devastatingly elegant, and almost god-like, which is exactly what I’ve always imagined the real Louis would have been like. Consider him my new boyfriend. As far as the history goes, well … Let’s just file this one under “Plays Fast and Loose With History” and sit back and let the art wash over us.

The costumes were designed by Olivier Bériot, and while they are definitely theatrical, so’s the rest of the film. It’s eye-candy, not historical accuracy. The two main characters are devoted the most interesting costumes, and everyone else is, literally, set dressing. Lots of glittering synthetic fabrics and costume jewelry, which are admittedly pretty dazzling as the court forms the backdrop of most of the action. It makes for spectacular visuals, but it’s not going to top any lists of historically accurate costume movies.

So, let’s take a look at some of the costumes!

Louis XIV


The young Sun King and worshiper.


Dreamy king is dreamy.


Godlike and gorgeous. I’ll take two, please.


Louis dance practice costume is one of the better outfits in the film. Also, is it just me or is he a dead ringer for Lee Pace?


Note how the sleeves aren’t attached all the way around to give the full range of motion in the shoulders.


Pay no attention to the creepy bald guy. Just look at all that hair. Hnng.




While I didn’t love the mass of unruly curls on Lully, at least it’s not a mullet.


Because fuck you, Molière.


One of the more interesting suits Lully gets — Practically screams “Property of the Sun King.”


No, that upholstery material is not period. And are those … grommets … on his cuffs?


The theatrical costumes are probably the best thing about the costumes in the film overall. Here we have the marriage of Music (Lully) and Theater (Molière).

The Chicks


The film is largely gynophobic, so we don’t get a lot of women’s costumes to appreciate more than in passing. Here Lully’s wife shares a weirdly sensual moment with her niece, and Lully’s lover.


Hey, it’s shiny! Deal with it!


This dress is one of two that Lully’s wife gets during the entire film, spanning 20 years.


This could be an interesting outfit on one of Louis’ (unnamed) mistresses. We don’t get to find out because he literally rips it off before bench pressing her. Yes, you read that right.


The Queen Mother is NOT amused.


Possibly the queen, possibly the mistresses. Who knows?


17th-century punk rock.


The final take? Watch it, enjoy the eye-candy, and just don’t think about it too hard. It’s better than Farinelli, if nothing else!


About the author

Sarah Lorraine

Sarah has an undergraduate degree in Clothing & Textile Design and a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture, with an emphasis on fashion history. When she’s not caught in paralyzing existential dread, she's drinking craft cocktails and writing about historical costume in film and television. She's been pissing people off on the internet since 1995.

19 Responses

  1. Susan Pola

    Yum! I’ll definitely check it out due to the eye candy. Also the shiny stuff.

    • Sarah Lorraine

      It’s totally worth it! I had been wanting to see it for YEARS and I can’t believe it took me this long to finally sit down and watch it. I had the DVD sitting on my desk for over a year, for crying out loud!

  2. Elysse

    Benoît Magimel ‘s perfection in this film cannot be stressed enough! I even liked him when he was ill and slightly green.

    • Sarah Lorraine

      True story: He reminds me a lot of an ex of mine who totally shattered my heart into a zillion pieces in my early 20s.

      THAT. HAIR.


      GAH. *grabby hands*

  3. Kathleen Norvell

    First of all, is there a version of this available in English? I saw it in French with subtitles and I would kill for an English copy.

    Secondly, since I do historical dance, I was very interested in the dancing in this. The dance steps are accurate and the choreography made my heart go pitapat since there is so much bad choreography out there on film. The choreographer taught the actors rudimentary Baroque dance steps. Dancers were chosen and made up to resemble the actors they were doubling for and were dressed in the same clothes. So, when the king dances, you see the actor in closeup and the professional dancer in the far shots. Beautifully done.

    I’m not an expert on Baroque costume, but it all looked good to me. Maybe it was all the eye candy. I especially loved the royal “ballet” costumes. Check out some of Inigo Jones’ masque costumes for similar looks.

    • Sarah Lorraine

      I’m so glad to hear that the dancing was good! I’m admittedly very much NOT A DANCER so there’s been films where I thought the dancing was amazing only to find out that it’s basically ridiculed by the historical dance community the same way we ridicule costumes. What I really loved was the way that movement was what visually tied Lully and Louis together in a sort of ballet throughout the film. It was gorgeously choreographed just in the acting department. Also, somewhere I ran across a video of Magimel training with the choreographer… Will have to dig that up and post it here.

      As for an English dubbed version, sadly, I’m not aware if there is one out there. The trailer was dubbed, I know that much, but the only copy I can find is subtitled. I’d almost rather have the dubbed version so I could concentrate better on the costumes… Or maybe I should actually get fluent in French one of these days. :P

      • Kathleen Norvell

        The video about how the dancing was done was part of the movie DVD — in the “Extras” section or whatever it was called. The problem I have is that the only DVDs available for this are not (or at least when we saw it a few years ago) Region 1 (USA) compatible. So unless I could break the region code (frowned on by the authorities) or buy a multi-regional DVD player, I was screwed. Luckily, the person who had the DVD had a multi-regional player. I’d take the French version if I could only get a copy. I love beautiful men in beautiful clothes.


          • Kathleen Norvell

            I looked on Amazon and the region wasn’t specified on most available copies. At least one was Region 2, so no go there. I will take my chances and order.

      • Susan Pola

        I’m in lust with Louis XIV. After seeing your extras, I have to own this on DVD for Region 1, US, I’m going to see if either B&N can order it or Alibris. I dislike Amazon as much as I abhor autocorrect on my phone.

        BTW, any word on Versailles series showing here?

        • Sarah Lorraine

          Good luck on finding it! Try Ebay, too. If nothing else, you can always get a region free DVD player for under $100 nowadays. Another options: I use a DVD peripheral drive on my iMac which is essentially region-free (you can switch between regions endlessly). Definitely makes things easier when sourcing films!

          • Susan Pola

            Wonder if there’s a region free Blu-ray player? My non region free Blu-ray player is showing its age. Hmm.

          • Kathleen Norvell

            Regarding Susan Pola’s query about Versailles, it will be shown on Ovation (the network that carries the Edwardian Murdock Mysteries in my neck of the woods) starting Oct. 1.

  4. Penny H

    Haven’t seen the film yet, but surely the modern conducting baton Lully was using in one of the YouTube clips is wrong? Lully died from gangrene from an injury to his foot caused by accidentally hitting it with his tall vertical conducting staff, the kind that was shown somewhere in Tous les Matins du Monde.

    I’m glad to hear from a dancer that the dancing was good, will make an effort to watch.

    • Sarah Lorraine

      Lully is shown with both the staff and the baton throughout the film. In fact, the movie opens with the scene where Lully stabs himself in the foot with the baton. He’s also shown conducting with his violin bow on occasion. Apparently, it was whatever was at hand…?

  5. Sandra Kilpatrick

    Is this film available to purchase? I work at a university and am trying to find a copy for a professor.