The Man in the Iron Mask (1998)


I am taking time away from my busy schedule of watching Aiden Turner’s entire filmography to discuss The Man In The Iron Mask (1998). It’s a serious hardship, I tell you, since I’m just past the first episode of the third season of Being Human, and, like, GUYS. HE IS LITERALLY THE HOTTEST THING EVER.

Anyway, since I apparently co-created this blog to talk about costume flicks and not just Aiden Turner’s supreme hotness, let’s get this over with. I think it’s safe to say that I like the dark, swarthy type (considering my previous obsessions with Adrien Brody and his towel and now the aforementioned Mr. Turner), so blond guys have never really done much for me. I guess that’s probably why I never understood the appeal of Leonardo DiCaprio.

Like many of us who spent the bulk of our teens in the 1990s, I remember the Leo Craze when it first started. Vividly. Mainly because I couldn’t figure out why on earth ANYONE thought Leonardo DiCaprio was attractive. Of all the young actors in Hollywood, why was everyone so fixated on him? At the time he was just an ok actor, sort of middling-to-fair (he’s definitely improved in the last 20 years, I will grant him that), but he was just so weird-looking, and not in an Adrien Brody or Owen Wilson kind of way. In fact, I always thought he looked sort of like an alien.

The Man in the Iron Mask (1998)

Just sayin’.

The Man in the Iron Mask was obviously one of those films that was attempting to capitalize on Leonardo DiCaprio’s late-1990s sex appeal. Based on a plot line in one of Alexandre Dumas’ D’artagnan Chronicles, the film develops on a 17th century conspiracy theory that the French King Louis XIV was actually the younger twin brother of the rightful heir to the throne, Philippe (no relation to Louis XIV’s actual younger brother, Philippe, who — not surprisingly — is not in this film), who was being kept in the Bastille and forced to wear an iron mask 24/7 to hide his true identity. It is up to the Four Musketeers to free this young man and help him reclaim the throne that is rightfully his. Leo stars as both Philippe and Louis XIV, and is painfully out-classed at every turn by an insanely talented ensemble cast made up of Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Gerard Depardieu, and Gabriel Byrne — which doesn’t really matter because all Leo really had to do was stand there with a pulse and send millions of teenage girls into fits of ecstasy and millions of dollars into United Artists’ coffers.

It also features a VERY underutilized Hugh Laurie as “King’s Advisor #1”, which is depressing. If there’s one thing that would improve any movie, it’s more Hugh Laurie.

The Man in the Iron Mask (1998)

Wasted opportunity, if you ask me.

The hardest thing about the film is the fact that the casting is so uneven. On the one hand we have the Musketeers: D’Artagnan (Gabriel Byrne), Porthos (Gerard Depardieu), Aramis (Jeremy Irons), and Athos (John Malkovich). Four incredibly talented actors that pretty much defined the 1980s and 90s.

On the other hand, we have Leo as both King Louis and Phillipe (he’s better as Phillipe for some weird reason), French actress Judith Godrèche as the ingenue Christine, and Peter Sarsgaard as Roul, Porthos’ son. They all objectively are crap, though I’m willing to give Judith a pass because of the language factor and all. Then again, please feel free to tell me if I’m being too nice.

Anyway, thankfully this post isn’t about the acting, but the costuming. The best thing this film had going for it was that the costumes were by one of Frock Flicks’ personal favorites, James Acheson (Dangerous Liaisons). Since Acheson was in control of the costume design, the costuming is above average considering it was written and directed by Randall “Facts Get in the Way Of the Plot” Wallace of Braveheart infamy. It’s surprisingly rich with extras being as gorgeously attired as the principles.

That said, I had one major issue with the costuming for a certain character. Namely, Anne of Austria’s costume. I get that they’re trying to differentiate her from the rest of her son’s over-the-top court. She’s supposed to be old fashioned, austere, the last vestige of the old guard clinging to relevancy in Louis’ glittering court. The way Acheson attempts to do this is by putting her in an out of fashion gown. Problem is that it’s not just 20 years out of fashion, but more like 50 years out of fashion. It’s still a nicely done outfit … It’s just totally wrong for a former Queen of France to be wearing.

Anne of Austria by Rubens, 1622-25, Norton Simon Museum

Actual Anne of Austria around the time of her marriage to Louis XIII — by Rubens, 1622-25, Norton Simon Museum

Anne d'Autriche en costume royal, after Charles Beaubrun, c. 1650, Hofburg, Innsbruck

And here she is c. 1650. Anne d’Autriche en costume royal, after Charles Beaubrun, c. 1650, Hofburg, Innsbruck.

The Man in the Iron Mask (1998)

Movie Anne of Austria, wearing something her mother probably would have worn. Also, I was totally prepared to make some snarky comment about how the actress is probably five years older than Leo, but then I looked at and turns out, Anne Parillaud is 14 years older than him. That said… Anne of Austria was 37 when she gave birth to Louis XIV.

1998 The Man in the Iron Mask

Still, it’s a really nice gown! It just is way more 1610s Spanish than anything remotely like what would have been worn between 1620-1660 in France when Anne was still heavily involved in her son’s reign.

The Man in the Iron Mask (1998)

She does get a more contemporary styled gown for the 1660s, though.

1998 The Man in the Iron Mask

Louis’ gold embroidered coat. It’s kind of a stretch for 1662 to have a frock coat and breeches — men were still rather attached to their petticoat breeches that early in the 1660s.

1998 The Man in the Iron Mask

Christine. I guess she’s pretty in that kind of late-90s way. The beachy waves are not exactly selling it for me, but I really like her gown.

1998 The Man in the Iron Mask

The dress is a total stunner in real life.Talk about the wedding gown of my dreams…

1998 The Man in the Iron Mask

Loads of fabric in the skirt and that great sweeping train.

1998 The Man in the Iron Mask

I love James Acheson for this reason alone. The densely layered embellishment on this gown is fantastic. Who cares if its all probably glued on plastic pearls and chopped up bits of sari embroidery? It looks AMAZING.

1998 The Man in the Iron Mask

Masque costumes are always a favorite of mine. They’re a chance for the costume designer to really pull out all the stops and showcase their skills.

1998 The Man in the Iron Mask

Token cross-dressing scene played for laughs. Still, that’s a pretty sweet gown.

1998 The Man in the Iron Mask

One of the masque costumes from the front…

1998 The Man in the Iron Mask

And from the back.

1998 The Man in the Iron Mask

I am in love with Christine’s yellow damask gown. It’s exactly the shade of yellow I look fabulous in.

1998 The Man in the Iron Mask
1998 The Man in the Iron Mask

Better… At least he doesn’t look like a six-year old girl in this shot.

1998 The Man in the Iron Mask

Ok, if you drape enough fabulous silk damask over him, I wouldn’t kick Leo out of bed.

1998 The Man in the Iron Mask

Jeremy Irons is pretty much the hottest thing in this movie. And all he does is wear a black cassock and look sexy. Works for me!

1998 The Man in the Iron Mask

LOVE this dressing gown on Anne of Austria and would very likely kill to get my hands on some of that fabric. Also, I really liked that they went for densely embroidered Musketeer badges. The badges are most likely machine done, but they don’t look like they’ve been painted on with puff paint like the ones in the 1993 Three Musketeers. Clearly there was an actual budget and someone in control who knew what they were doing.

1998 The Man in the Iron Mask

< art historian > I’m reasonably certain that that portrait was painted at least 50 years in the future from when this film was set. < /art historian >

What are your thoughts about The Man in the Iron Mask (1998)? Share them with us in the comments!

28 Responses

  1. Daniel Milford-Cottam

    Oh God, “Lulu Do Crapio” was just one of the variations on his name I came up with as an unhappy twink-aged young gay in the late 90s. According to the cooing chickenhawks on the provincial gay scene, Adam Rickitt, various limp-haired Australian schoolboys in soap operas, and darling Lulu were the VERY epitome of gorgeousness and any voice of dissent elicited horrified gasping, cheek-clutching and pearl-clutching. It also earned me a full-body shave at one point, but that’s one of many stories for the autobiography.

    I liked Titanic VERY much. He died in it.

  2. mmcquown

    If you like Hugh Laurie, you’ll love “The Night Manager.” He plays a rotten-to-the-core arms dealer vs Tom Hiddleston. Contemporary, but very worth watching, On the other hand, I saw Leo in “The Revenant,” which IS a period piece and thought him excellent.

  3. MoHub

    I couldn’t stomach Leo until Blood Diamond, and I almost didn’t give it a chance after Titanic and Gangs of New York. Overall, I think he’s better when he’s not cast as a romantic lead.

  4. Beth

    I love Leo and I think that he is usually a fine actor. I hate most movies that he chooses to be in but c’mon, how awesome was he in Gilbert Grape?!

    Later movies that I love him in are The Departed…and I’m blanking after that.

    That being said, this movie was not enjoyable for me. And I was so excited when it came out too. My sibs would not take me to the movies so I had to wait to rent it and just..ugh. Let down!

  5. Elizabeth

    For me, this movie was all about Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, and Gabriel Byrne. With Jeremy Irons being my favorite. I watch almost anything those 3 are in.

  6. Stephani

    I still maintain that Leo’s best role was Arnie in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. But I did like him in Catch Me If You Can and Blood Diamond and The Departed. He does those types of roles very well usually. But he was awful in Gangs of New York, which was awful itself.
    I remember seeing this flick and being annoyed at Leo in both roles. Blond doesn’t really do it for me either (I make exceptions for JJ Feild and Tom Hiddleston). I never got him as a romantic lead in the 90s and i still don’t. The costuming was well done and the other actors were good, but for me they couldn’t save the film.

  7. Al

    Young Leo would have made a perfect whatsisface, Darnely? Mary Stuart’s second (boy-toy) husband. Perfection.
    I was a teenager when this movie came out and even I thought he looked utterly dreadful in that crappy mullet wig.

  8. ladylavinia1932

    I’ve always been a fan of Leonardo DiCaprio as an actor. He’s done a lot of movies that I have really enjoyed . . . especially in the last 15 years or so. But “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” is not a particular favorite of mine. I don’t dislike it, but I don’t love it. I had no problems with the cast . . . well, I thought Peter Sarsgaard was a bit sappy in this. But, it’s just not a big favorite with me.

  9. E Jillette

    Not only funny-looking, but his head always seems large relative to the rest of him. I always thought he looked like a tadpole.

  10. Lady Hermina De Pagan

    I am of an age that I remember when a young Leo was brought into Growing Pains to fill the Tiger Beat gap being left by an aging Kirk Cameron. He did not thrill me there and he didn’t do it for me in anything after either. That being said, I saw this movie in the theater and while the story was alright the acting was too uneven and contrived. Also Christine’s unbound hair irritated me. I know she is supposed to be the eye candy but would it kill them to put it up and have the obligatory scene where her hair is seductively loosed and tumbles down her back.

  11. Susan Pola

    Jeremy Irons and the costumes were why I watched it. Although I do admit to being a fan of Leo, he did nothing for me in this. I did drool over him in Titanic and Blood Diamonds. Also I thought his Howard Hughes really was excellent. Cate as Kate.
    What bothered me in this was that Louis wasn’t regal and royal enough. Compare it to Versailles & Alan Rickman’s Louis and you’ll see what I mean. Angst ridden teen doesn’t cut it when dealing with Le Roi Soleil (Sun King aka Louis XIV).
    Believe the Richard Chamberlain version was better.

  12. mmcquown

    As to that, I think I liked the Louis Hayward version best. His performance as the two brothers was top-notch.

  13. Maria

    I liked this movie but like pretty much everyone else – did not get the appeal of Leonardo DiCaprio during this period – I think that I have liked a total of 3 – yes 3 films he was in – Gilbert Grape, The Departed and Catch Me If You Can. He is not romantic leading man material because he just isn’t manly enough. D’Artagnan (Gabriel Byrne), Porthos (Gerard Depardieu), Aramis (Jeremy Irons), and Athos (John Malkovich) really carried this movie – I also liked the character of Lt. Andre played by Edward Atterton. I thought the costuming was very good.

  14. hsc

    Around the same time this movie came out, Camille Paglia made a defense of Tom Cruise’s masculinity/heterosexuality in her column on, in which she memorably stated that the “boyish beauty” of Cruise “is certainly more robustly masculine that that chicken-hearted, butter-nosed baby dyke, Leonardo DiCaprio.”

    (And no, that’s not auto-correct having fun with her quote. Paglia actually wrote “butter-nosed,” not “button-nosed.”)

    But damn, those James Acheson costumes are gorgeous, and thanks for posting those shots of the costumes on display, particularly the ones of that gown with all the detail on the embellishment.

    I don’t know what I love you for more, that or the snark.

    • NPHooks

      A good reminder that Camille Paglia is awful, even though that did make me laugh.

  15. Kathryn MacLennan

    I would kick Leo out of bed regardless of how much damask he is wearing. I would keep the damask, though.

  16. thedementedfairy

    Malkovitch malkovitch malkovitch. And Depardieu. If you’re gonna have a man, have a MAN. Di Caprio. Yuk. I also call him Crappio, and can’t stand his weird domey head. I’m another vote for Gilbert Grape.
    LOVE the Paglia quote!

  17. Alys Mackyntoich

    No love for Gabriel Byrne as d’Artagnan? He certainly was the only thing working for me in this hot mess of a movie.

    (At one point during a particularly badly done fight scene, I may have burst out with “Oh, I don’t think so” so loudly that the entire theater heard me. ).

  18. ladylavinia1932

    Are people inclined to bash celebrities – especially actors and actresses – who become successful at a young age and manage to remain successful?

    • NPHooks


      However, people are also inclined to NOT be attracted to every sex symbol that are seemingly universally adored and to puzzle over why they themselves do not find that person attractive. Relevant to this post, I don’t feel the author was “bashing” Mr DiCaprio for “being successful at a young age”, they’re factoring in that a good portion of this movie was based around the fact at the time this movie was released, DiCaprio was a huge draw for teenage girls, although they personally do not see the sex appeal the casting director, studio executives, and millions of fans apparently did.

  19. Isis

    I never got the appeal of Leonardo either.

    I saw this movie straight after Rocky Horror Picture Show. Trust me, I could NOT unthink of what kind of underwear Cardinal Richeliu must be wearing…

  20. Rosemary

    I was a teenager in the 90’s and I never found Leo that appealing, he is much better now, I felt the same way about Brad Pitt (who has really come into his own now and I think he’s great now). I had a huge crush on Jeremy Irons! that’s the main reason I watched this movie and I LOVED him in Brideshead Revisited I watched that so many times when I was a teenager! still love it now :D