TBT: L’Allée du Roi (1996)


Occasionally, there comes along a movie or TV show that, even though there’s nothing spectacular about the costuming, still manages to blow me away and I want to make everyone watch it. L’Allée du Roi (1996) is one such series. It had been recommended a few times by commenters on this site, but since it’s a French film, and I have what amounts to a kindergarten-level understanding of spoken French in the best circumstances, I held off on trying to track it down. Copies of the English-subtitled DVDs were also hard to come by as well as being way out of my budget (Amazon had it listed for $80! Hell no!). But when Amazon.ca coughed up a Canadian/Region-1 DVD for under $20, I sprang on it. I rationalized that if it ended up without English subtitles, I’d just pass it along to Kendra, who is basically fluent in French and she could do the review.

However, the gamble paid off, and I received a DVD with English subtitles! The drawback was that the DVD was a VHS-transfer, so the images weren’t sharp enough to do screencaps. That said, the costuming was entirely secondary to the fantastic directing, acting, and script, so it ultimately didn’t matter. L’Allée du Roi was adapted from the novel by French author, Françoise Chandernagor, and directed by Nina Companeez. It centers on the life of Françoise d’Aubigné, from her birth as the illegitimate daughter of a soldier (born in prison, no less!), her advantageous marriage to the poet Paul Scarron (who was 30 years her elder and crippled by disease), her rise in court as the governess of Louis XIV’s children with his mistress, Madame Montespan, and finally, her “secret” 30-year marriage to the Sun King. It’s the ultimate rags-to-riches story, and one that too-often gets overlooked by the English-speaking world.

The rundown…

Didier Sandre is not my favorite Louis XIV (that title goes to Benoît Magimel in Le Roi Danse), but he’s appropriately big and shiny.

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One of the things that initially made me want to watch this film was the fact that it featured the late 17th-century mantua gown. There’s not enough of these on film, imho.

L'Allée du Roi

My crush on Dominique Blanc continues … She carries the role beautifully. Also, she was 40 when they filmed the series, making her the appropriate age for Maintenon’s marriage to Louis. As a woman who is about to turn 40, I felt the need to point this out.

L'Allée du Roi

Madame Montespan’s costumes were very glinty. I admit, I got slightly obsessed with Valentina Varela as Montespan. She manages to be both horrible and likable, often at the same time.

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All in all, this is a great series and I cannot recommend watching it enough. Maybe one of these days it will be issued on BluRay with better quality, but even a crappy VHS-to-DVD transfer is worth watching.

8 Responses

  1. picasso Manu

    Oh, I knew you’d love it! And the fact that it was one of the few films that was shot on location at Versailles doesn’t hurt either.
    I get you with the Magimel appreciation (nice legs, eh?), but I think Sandre does quite a job on an older, more mature Louis.
    Which was Montespan downfall, in the end: The sun king changed, and she could only do more of the same, so she got desperate and did something stupid.
    Still, Louis, boinking the babysitter… How very Hollywood of you! lol

  2. Janet Nickerson

    I had NO idea that this film existed! I have the translated novel (it was on French best-seller lists for over a year). My husband had purchased it before we met and he was ready to give it away when I pounced on it. BTW, Madame de Maintenon was not illegitimate; her parents were married. She was baptized Roman Catholic but raised Protestant by her aunt until forcibly removed from her aunt’s care and put into a convent to ‘re-educate’ her. Her story is AMAZING. Madame de Montespan comes across in the novel as both likable and horrible, so it seems the film followed the novel in this respect very well! I’ll have to find the DVD – thanks for posting!.

  3. Susan Pola Staples

    Benoit Magimel sigh, pant, drool. Ad infinitum.
    BTW I cannot locate a Region 1 Le Roi Danse. Please help. I’ve seen stuff on YouTube, but not whole movie.
    Will comment further on post later.😇

    • Janet Nickerson

      I got the DVD from Amazon today and watched the first part. SOOOO much better than ‘Versailles’. When I purchased it there were 3 copies available – they may be gone by now.

  4. Damnitz

    One of the greatest period films about the king and one that did the king justice. Not a man to be loved, but to be admired. A man as an institution. Dominique Blanc one of the greatest actresses of France for all time. Her smile and eyes are exceptional.

  5. Audrey Arn

    I’m french and I remember watching it on TV when I was a child. It made such a strong impression on me than in my middle school years, my bestfriend and I knew the lines by heart : the dialogues are so well written, mesdames Maintenon and Montespan’s exchanges are exhilarating, they say such horrible things in such a nice way it’s simply amazing. The main actors are simply perfect (Blanc’s eyes are mesmerizing and her arms are so delicate and graceful she looks like a porcelain doll), and gosh don’t get me started on the costumes, they’re just GOALS.
    My love of my country’s history began with this 2 parts miniserie and only grew with other biopic of historical figures (I think Elizabeth sealed my love for costumes and history in high school).
    Anyway, glad you liked it, the story is quite amazing in itself, and this movie is diligent but not boring or soulless. If you ever need french traduction, don’t hesitate to reach to me, I have quite a good understanding at english and french is my mother tongue.
    Cheers! <3

  6. eliška

    I´ve been binge reading your posts about 17th centruy period dramas (for inspiration and also to prove my love to some of them) and oh God…is Madam the Montespan wearing the same blue dress as Flora in the production of Atys by Les Art Florissants?! I saw this movie so many times, how could I miss it? :D I love it, when the costumes are reused (and sometimes updated) for a different project.