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:
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!
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:
Louis’s got great facial hair and a wide lace collar.
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.
He’s got an ornate coat, ribbon and medal, and a whole lot lace…
He looks SO pretty! Love those big cuffs!
His wigs seem overly styled (all those perfect barrel curls) compared to the real deal:
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 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).
Her dresses are very ornate!
But there’s SO MUCH SHITTY POLY BAROQUE SATIN from here on out
She’s got a weird hoop that’s sort of a wheel farthingale, but with more side emphasis.
Why is shitty satin always even shittier when it’s pale blue?
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:
Somehow Louise’s satin is less shitty.
Although I DEEPLY question that Disney princess bodice.
Louise was legendarily pious. It’s not her fault this was an era of dorky bangs.
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!
All the courtiers are hot for Montespan.
There’s some questionable fitting in this dress, which is just exacerbated by the fact that it’s made of satin.
Otherwise it looks decently 1660s-ish.
Portrait of Madame de Montespan, mistress to Louis XIV, c. 1675, via Wikimedia Commons.
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:
Fitted bodice, big sleeves, big skirt – acceptable! Copyright: Mary Evans AF Archive
There’s a lot of detail on this dress! I particularly like the bows at the elbows.
The blue eyeshadow is a big no, however.
Meanwhile, little episodic things happen, like:
The play Tartuffe is performed at Versailles. Love her black & white!
Louis meets musketeer d’Artagnan…
Who has some kind of issues about the military, I didn’t catch it | Photo by FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images
There’s a lot of ladies twittering…
Molière flirts with some rando who is in desperate need of a corset (Photo by FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images)
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.
Compare the cone-shaped silhouette on the bodice here | Marquise de Sévigné, 1665, by Claude Lefèbvre, Wikipedia.
Townspeople are suspiciously clean.
Eventually, Louis ages and is now played by the film’s director, Sacha Guitry:
He still rocks the excellent wigs.
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.
I think the lady in the middle might be her poison hookup.
Montespan embraces the black from here on out.
The duchess of Fontanges is somehow involved:
Wearing the headdress that bears her name, made of wired lace. That stomacher? is hideous.
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:
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
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.
She’s very black-widows-weeds.
Fun times playing nursemaid to elderly Louis.
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:
In the film. Yes, it’s dimensional and has real hair.
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?