If you know one French actress from historical costume movies, it’s probably Fanny Ardant, she of the dark hair, smokey voice, and come-hither eyes. Even if you don’t watch French movies, you’ll probably recognize her as Marie de Guise in Elizabeth (1998) — in which case you really should know more about her!
Since I’m in France right now, I figured it was time to celebrate the woman who is, to me, the grande dame of historical French movies!
Les Dames de la Côte (1979)
Three French families living on the Normandy coast have their lives upended by the First World War.
Mémoires de Deux Jeunes Mariées (1981)
Adaptation of a Balzac novel about two young French women who meet at the convent but whose lives follow very different paths. Set in the 1840s.
La Chute de la Maison Usher (1981)
A French adaptation of the Edgar Allen Poe gothic horror.
Life Is a Bed of Roses (1983)
Three intertwined tales, one set during and after the First World War, the other two modern. Way too complicated to summarize, so just know they’re all centered on a castle in France.
Swann in Love (1984)
Jeremy Irons in love with a courtesan in fin-de-siècle Paris; Fanny plays an aristocratic woman in his circle.
La Grande Cabriole (1989)
A French noblewoman (Ardant) takes up with a bourgeois man on the eve of the French Revolution.
Le Colonel Chabert (1994)
Gérard Depardieu (ugh) is a French colonel who supposedly died during a battle in 1807. He returns to Paris to find his wife has remarried. Stuff doesn’t end well.
A provincial French aristocrat must learn the games of wit played at the French court just before the Revolution. Ardant plays the worldly widow who both lures and sabotages him.
Ardant plays Marie de Guise, regent of Scotland during Queen Elizabeth I’s early reign. Hey, it’s not her fault they got so much of the history wrong!
Balzac: A Passionate Life (1999)
The life of famed French writer Honoré de Balzac (Cousin Bette and much more). Ardant plays the married woman he’s in love with.
Le Libertin (2000)
Ardant plays a Prussian painter who paints famed 18th-century intellectual Denis Diderot (Vincent Perez) in the nude, among other naughtiness.
Callas Forever (2002)
The last days of famous opera singer Maria Callas.
Ardant plays last Russian empress Alexandra to Gérard Depardieu’s (ugh) Rasputin.
And now I feel morally obliged to be random and link to Sarah’s favorite 1970s epic music video, Rasputin by Boney M!
Casanova Variations (2014)
John Malkovich as an aging (literal) Casanova; Ardant plays the mother of one of his conquests.
A story about French resistance during World War II. All I can find out is Fanny plays “the countess.”
La Séance (2015)
Normally I wouldn’t bother with a short film, but Fanny plays the Comtesse of Castiglione, a 19th-century historical figure close to my heart (short version: she was an Italian countess who lived in Paris during the 1850s-60s and designed and posed for artistic photography, then went into seclusion, then during the 1890s did more photography) — and while the screenshots show WTF costumes, this reconstruction of one of her photographs is shockingly impressive.
What’s your favorite Fanny Ardant historical film?