TBT: Royal Affairs in Versailles, Part 1

18

I’ve wanted to watch 1954’s Royal Affairs in Versailles (Si Versailles M’était Conté) for years because it features so many key figures from French history. But it’s been impossible to find with subtitles (in English or French)! I’m visiting Paris so France is on the brain, and I decided to finally sit down and watch it, whether or not I understand the rapid-fire, super-nasal French (which, nope, about 90% is going right past me).

This movie is a slog, y’all. Because like many of director Sacha Guitry‘s films, it’s not really a story so much as an episodic look at French history — this time, focused on the palace of Versailles. So I’m breaking this post up into two parts, both because mama needs a break from slogging through this history lesson, and because the film is LONG.

Four people are credited as costume designers: Monique Dunan (If Paris Were Told to Us, Napoleon), Alex Papin (Napoleon), Maggy Rouff, and Jean Zay (Ruy Blas).

Today we’ll look at part one (yes, this is one of those films with an intermission), which begins with King Henri IV deciding to build a hunting lodge, through Louis XIII augmenting said lodge into a small palace, and then a whole lot of Louis XIV. I’m going to work through the film roughly chronologically here rather than thematically or whatever.

Let’s start with Henri IV (1589-1610), who’s out riding with his son/heir and decides to buy some land:

1954 Royal Affairs in Versailles

Henri’s team slashing, and wears his medals while out riding? Okay, what do I know about Renaissance men’s riding fashion? Hey, they’re wearing hats!

Equestrian portrait of Henri IV of France (1553-1610), 16th century, Condé Museum

For comparison: Equestrian portrait of Henri IV of France (1553-1610), 16th century, Condé Museum

Louis XIII (1610-43) talks far too much with an oily Cardinal Mazarin about various things, including his plans to build a small private hunting lodge at Versailles:

1954 Royal Affairs in Versailles

Louis’s got great facial hair and a wide lace collar.

de Champaigne, Philippe; Louis XIII (1601-1643), King of France; National Galleries of Scotland; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/louis-xiii-16011643-king-of-france-212190

Both of which check out | Louis XIII (1601-1643), King of France by Philippe de Champaigne; National Galleries of Scotland; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/louis-xiii-16011643-king-of-france-212190

Now is where things get vaguely interesting, with Louis XIV (1643-1715), who is played by the VERY handsome Georges Marchal as the young Louis. He augments the lodge into a palace.

1954 Royal Affairs in Versailles

He’s got an ornate coat, ribbon and medal, and a whole lot lace…

1954 Royal Affairs in Versailles

He looks SO pretty! Love those big cuffs!

1954 Royal Affairs in Versailles

His wigs seem overly styled (all those perfect barrel curls) compared to the real deal:

Louis XIV, 1662, via Wikimedia Commons.

Louis XIV, 1662, via Wikimedia Commons.

Louis XIV, King of France, in Front of the Tuilerie Castle by a Follower of Charles Le Brun, 1662, Palace of Versailles.

Louis XIV, King of France, in Front of the Tuilerie Castle by a Follower of Charles Le Brun, 1662, Palace of Versailles.

Louis marries Marie-Thérèse of Spain, who wears dated fashions and gets dorky music just in case we’re unclear on how excited Louis is about her (not very).

1954 Si Versailles m'était conté - Jany Castel as Marie Therese

Her dresses are very ornate!

1954 Si Versailles m'était conté - Jany Castel as Marie Therese

But there’s SO MUCH SHITTY POLY BAROQUE SATIN from here on out

1954 Royal Affairs in Versailles

She’s got a weird hoop that’s sort of a wheel farthingale, but with more side emphasis.

1954 Royal Affairs in Versailles

Why is shitty satin always even shittier when it’s pale blue?

Charles Beaubrun and Henri Beaubrun the younger, Portrait of Queen Marie Thérèse of France, as patron of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris, 17th c., via Wikimedia Commons.

The real Marie-Therese was blonde, and didn’t always dress in dated styles | Charles Beaubrun and Henri Beaubrun the younger, Portrait of Queen Marie Thérèse of France, as patron of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris, 17th c., via Wikimedia Commons.

Louis, of course, is far more interested in his various mistresses. First we have blonde Louise de la Vallière:

1954 Royal Affairs in Versailles

Somehow Louise’s satin is less shitty.

1954 Royal Affairs in Versailles

Although I DEEPLY question that Disney princess bodice.

1954 Royal Affairs in Versailles

Louise was legendarily pious. It’s not her fault this was an era of dorky bangs.

Louise de la Vallière, 1667, via Wikimedia Commons.

The real Louise was more tasteful | Louise de la Vallière, 1667, via Wikimedia Commons.

Eventually Louis throws Louise over for the Marquise de Montespan, played by Claudette Colbert (Cleopatra, Maid of Salem, Drums Along the Mohawk) — who was born in France, but moved to the US at age 3, I had to check!

Royal Affairs in Versailles

All the courtiers are hot for Montespan.

1954 Royal Affairs in Versailles

There’s some questionable fitting in this dress, which is just exacerbated by the fact that it’s made of satin.

1954 Royal Affairs in Versailles

Otherwise it looks decently 1660s-ish.

"Portrait of Madame de Montespan," mistress to Louis XIV, c. 1675, via Wikimedia Commons.

Portrait of Madame de Montespan, mistress to Louis XIV, c. 1675, via Wikimedia Commons.

Silver Tissue Dress, 1660, Fashion Museum (Bath)

A good example of a gown of this period | Silver Tissue Dress, 1660, Fashion Museum (Bath)

Louis snags Montespan, and her husband throws a shitfit:

1954 Royal Affairs in Versailles

Fitted bodice, big sleeves, big skirt – acceptable! Copyright: Mary Evans AF Archive

1954 Royal Affairs in Versailles

There’s a lot of detail on this dress! I particularly like the bows at the elbows.

1954 Royal Affairs in Versailles
1954 Royal Affairs in Versailles

The blue eyeshadow is a big no, however.

Meanwhile, little episodic things happen, like:

1954 Royal Affairs in Versailles

The play Tartuffe is performed at Versailles. Love her black & white!

1954 Royal Affairs in Versailles

Louis meets musketeer d’Artagnan…

1954 Royal Affairs in Versailles

Who has some kind of issues about the military, I didn’t catch it | Photo by FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images

1954 Royal Affairs in Versailles

There’s a lot of ladies twittering…

1954 Royal Affairs in Versailles

Molière flirts with some rando who is in desperate need of a corset (Photo by FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images)

1954 Royal Affairs in Versailles

Famed letter-writer the Marquise de Sevigné joins the queen in wearing shitty blue satin. All the dresses are too princess-seam-y, but that’s the 1950s for ya.

Marquise de Sévigné, 1665, by Claude Lefèbvre

Compare the cone-shaped silhouette on the bodice here | Marquise de Sévigné, 1665, by Claude Lefèbvre, Wikipedia.

1954 Royal Affairs in Versailles

Townspeople are suspiciously clean.

Eventually, Louis ages and is now played by the film’s director, Sacha Guitry:

1954 Royal Affairs in Versailles

He still rocks the excellent wigs.

Portrait of Louis XIV of France (1638-1715), attributed to Jean Nocret, c. 1685, Palace of Versailles

Older Louis | Portrait of Louis XIV of France (1638-1715), attributed to Jean Nocret, c. 1685, Palace of Versailles

Montespan gets caught up in the Affair of the Poisons, in which she and many other courtiers were accused of having poisoned and/or used potions on various other courtiers and/or the king. Louis throws her over.

1954 Royal Affairs in Versailles

I think the lady in the middle might be her poison hookup.

1954 Si Versailles m'était conté1

Montespan embraces the black from here on out.

The duchess of Fontanges is somehow involved:

1954 Royal Affairs in Versailles

Wearing the headdress that bears her name, made of wired lace. That stomacher? is hideous.

1954 Royal Affairs in Versailles

Here you can see the fontange was a sheer cap with wired lace sticking up on top.

The issue here is that the duchess is SUPPOSEDLY the one who set the style, but her’s was the late 1670s/early 1680s version, which was a lot of ribbons on top of the head. This eventually got tall in the 1690s, but the duchess died in 1681, so I doubt she’d have actually been wearing the prototypical fontange. FYI, she died during the affair of the poisons, and so it was suspected she was poisoned.

I’m not positive what this earlier version would have looked like, but here’s the prototypical fontange of the 1680s and beyond:

Recueil des modes de la cour de France, 'Damoiselle en Habit de Chambre' by Henri Bonnart, 1678-80, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

I’m guessing we should be looking at something low like this | Recueil des modes de la cour de France, ‘Damoiselle en Habit de Chambre’ by Henri Bonnart, 1678-80, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Béatrice Hiéronyme de Lorraine, wearing bustled dress and fontange headdress, probably 1690s, via Wikimedia Commons

Rather than the higher 1690s-1710s style | Béatrice Hiéronyme de Lorraine, wearing bustled dress and fontange headdress, probably 1690s, via Wikimedia Commons

Eventually Louis’s eye turns towards the older and pious Marquise de Maintenon, who he eventually secretly marries.

1954 Royal Affairs in Versailles

She’s very black-widows-weeds.

1954 Royal Affairs in Versailles

The wedding.

1954 Royal Affairs in Versailles

Fun times playing nursemaid to elderly Louis.

Françoise d'Aubigné, Marquise de Maintenon (1635-1719), and her niece Françoise d'Aubigné, future Duchess of Noailles by Louis Ferdinand Elle the Younger or the Elder, c. 1688, Palace of Versailles

The older Madame de Maintenon did double down on the whole black widow’s weeds thing | Françoise d’Aubigné, Marquise de Maintenon (1635-1719), and her niece Françoise d’Aubigné, future Duchess of Noailles by Louis Ferdinand Elle the Younger or the Elder, c. 1688, Palace of Versailles

Louis eventually dies, but only after several tedious scenes showing his decline, which I have helpfully not screencapped. I will just point out this wax relief of Louis, which either they borrowed from a museum or made a damn good copy:

1954 Royal Affairs in Versailles

In the film. Yes, it’s dimensional and has real hair.

Antoine Benoist, Louis XIV, c. 1705. Relief in white beeswax, painted, glass enamel eye, human hair, white lace, silk, cramoisy velvet, pins and nails, 52 × 42 cm. Musée national des châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon. Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (Château de Versailles)/Gérard Blot.

The real deal: Antoine Benoist, Louis XIV, c. 1705. Relief in white beeswax, painted, glass enamel eye, human hair, white lace, silk, cramoisy velvet, pins and nails, 52 × 42 cm. Musée national des châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon. Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (Château de Versailles)/Gérard Blot.

Next week, I’ll look at the second half, which covers Louis XV and XVI (and maybe some Napoleon?)!

Have you slogged through Royal Affairs in Versailles?

18 Responses

      • Susan Pola Staples

        What about Nancy for the lovely Art Nouveau architecture and Villa Marjorelle for example as well as the Victor Prouvé Gown in l’Ecole de Nancy?

        See I had another question but I believe Claudette Colbert spoke 3 languages, but can’t remember the third.

        Reply
  1. Boxermom

    Is it me, or do those blue satin monstrosities look like the same dress? :)

    Reply
  2. Aleko

    Ahem – those are absolutely not ‘medals’! Medals are metal discs with a suspension loop. From the 16th through the 17th century political, personal, commemorative and devotional medals were made and could be worn on a chain round the neck. (Medals for military service or similar didn’t exist before the late 18th century.) What Louis XIV is wearing is the badge of the Ordre du Saint-Esprit, on the blue riband (= shoulder sash) of the Order, known in French as ‘le Cordon Bleu’. Henri IV and hs lad are wearing a smaller version of the badge on neck-ribbons, also blue. (That’s how you can tell it’s the Saint-Esprit: no other French order of chivalry has a blue riband.) Cardinal Mazarin is wearing one too.

    Reply
    • Susan Pola Staples

      Poly baroque Satin looks like poo 💩 in any colour, but light blue says ‘I have diarrhea and am ….’ tons of 💩 💩 💩 💩 ensue. First comment bc I might be distracted by really neat snark.

      Reply
  3. M.E. Lawrence

    Wow, that looks just terrible, apart from Louis XIV’s wigs. (Perhaps cheap satin looks worse when pale blue because of Disney’s Cinderella-at-the-ball and all those awful little-girl dress-up costumes that emerged from it.) And I had no idea Colbert ever played Mme. de Montespan. She was way too old for the role, but I’ve always liked Claudette’s sparkly quality.

    Reply
  4. mmcquown

    It was the 50’s; polyester was the new wonder fabric (except in case of fire, when it melted onto the body.) If you want a better look at that period, hunt up a copy of Elliott O’Donnelll’s “Old Court Life In France,” vols 1 & 2. Probably to be found in used book stores. I was in Paris in 1955 and saw Guitry twice drinking with friends on Boulevard Michelin. Don’t remember much what he looked like, but I do remember a strong sense of his presence.

    Reply
  5. Susan E Craig-Gilson

    Oohhh…I can’t wait to see more of this film! How exciting! I didn’t even know it existed.

    Reply
  6. Lexy

    About the weird fathinghale of queen Marie-Thérèse, I read somewhere that it was called a “garde-infante” and had to do with no one coming at their side or something like that…
    Also come one day to Lyon, we have the best food and an awesome museum of cinema, which has a lot of costumes and setting, including those of Le Parfum!

    Reply
  7. Janet Nickerson

    Madame de Maintenon wore black when she was second mistress of the robes to the Dauphine Marie Anne Victoire. It was the dress that went with the job. As she wrote to a friend, ‘Now that I belong to a princesse I shall always wear black.’

    Reply
  8. LouisD

    I love this movie (despite the costumes).
    But, as all the Guitry’s plaus and movies, its interest lies in the brillant and sparkling dialogues.
    There is no point watching it without subtitles

    Reply
  9. Damnitz

    Guitry was a strange director. He produced some masterpieces and a lot of boring stuff. It’s strange how he sometimes tried to reflect historical images on screen and otherwise made poor pictures. He obviously loved colours. It’s difficult to comprendre his films today when we all are familiar with that grey and darkness on all pictures in historical films.

    Reply
  10. Joe

    Did women routinely wear long white gloves with their formal dress in this period, that is, the mid- to late-1600’s? I don’t remember seeing a whole lot of imagery of long gloves as part of ladies’ formal costume before the Revolutionary/Napoleonic/Regency era.

    Reply

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