Jeanne Bécu, Comtesse du Barry (1743-93) gets a LOT of filmic love! This 18th-century mistress of Louis XV came from the working classes, so I think perhaps that’s why she’s so interesting to us.
Born the illegitimate daughter of a seamstress, she ended up getting a convent education thanks to her mother’s employer. At some point her mother was fired, so Jeanne left the convent and took on a number of jobs, ending up a shopgirl in a milliner’s shop. She was scouted by a high-class pimp named Jean-Baptiste du Barry who made her his mistress, and established her as a popular courtesan to the nobility and well-to-do in Paris.
King Louis XV spotted Jeanne at Versailles, and the two struck up a relationship. She had to be married in order to be presented at court, so du Barry and the king arranged for her to marry du Barry’s brother, Comte Guillaume du Barry.
Given her low class roots, Jeanne was scorned by much of court society. She was eventually presented formally at court, after which Louis XV made her “maitresse en titre” (titled mistress, an official position in the French court). She was a style leader, known for her luxurious wardrobe, and much criticized by the public for her extravagant spending (it was she who commissioned the famous diamond necklace that caused Marie-Antoinette so much trouble). She and Marie-Antoinette (who married the heir to the throne) had a tense relationship.
Louis XV died in 1774, and she was first sent to a convent. Eventually she managed to buy property and establish herself, and had several love affairs.
Du Barry was executed in the French Revolution. She owned an enslaved man, Zamor, who became involved with the revolutionaries; when du Barry found out, she
fired him (EDIT: ordered him to quit her service), and he then denounced her. She famously was terrified on her way to the guillotine, screaming and crying “You are going to hurt me! Why?!”
Now, let’s run down the famous Madame du Barry on film!
Du Barry (1914)
An early Italian silent film, so early that there’s no cast listed on IMDB!
Du Barry (1915)
Another silent, based on a play, starring Leslie Carter.
Madame Du Barry (1917)
Madame DuBarry (1919)
The silent era LOVED du Barry! This was a German filmed directed by the famed Ernst Lubitsch (Ninotchka, Heaven Can Wait) starring Polish actress (and Hollywood success) Pola Negri. We reviewed the hair.
Du Barry, Woman of Passion (1930)
Another adaptation of the 1901 play, this time with talking and starring Norma Talmadge.
Madame Du Barry (1934)
The BALLS OUT BEAUTIFUL film we’ve never been able to track down — but I finally have! Look for a review soon-ish. Dolores del Rio plays du Barry, with costumes by Orry-Kelly.
The Loves of Madame Dubarry (1935)
A British film based on a stage operetta, although I can’t tell if there’s singing in the film version. Du Barry was played by Gitta Alpar, a Hungarian-born opera singer, so I’m guessing yes!
Marie Antoinette (1938)
Gladys George plays the relatively small part of du Barry in this Norma-Shearer-as-Marie-Antoinette biopic. Du Barry and Marie-Antoinette basically scoff at each other before du Barry gets tossed.
Remontons les Champs-Élysées (1939)
One of director Sacha Guitry’s episodic vignettes-through-history films. Ariane Pathé plays du Barry, but I’m guessing it’s not a very big role based on the one other Guitry film I’ve watched.
DuBarry Was a Lady (1943)
A musical comedy starring Lucille Ball, in which there’s a dream sequence set in the 18th century where Ball becomes du Barry.
Black Magic (1949)
How have I never heard of this??!! Orson Welles plays hypnotist/charlatan Comte de Cagliostro. I can only find one image of Margot Grahame as du Barry, so it must be a small part. This is definitely on my shortlist!
Die Dubarry (1951)
A German film that I think is a musical, in which case it may be another adaptation of the operetta. Sari Barabas plays du Barry.
Madame du Barry (1954)
A French biopic starring Martine Carol, with super cotton-candy costumes.
Die Dubarry (1975)
Another German adaptation of the operetta, with Gail Robinson as du Barry.
Marie Antoinette (1975)
A French TV miniseries that I plan to review … someday! Michèle Grellier plays du Barry.
The Rose of Versailles (1980)
I like to include this one, because you fans are SO RABID! The animated Japanese film.
Marie Antoinette (2006)
Asia Argento plays a goth dreamgirl du Barry in Sofia Coppola’s Marie-Antoinette biopic.
Louis XV, le soleil noir (2009)
A French TV movie biopic about King Louis XV. Du Barry is played by Carolie Revel.
Who’s your favorite du Barry? Which of these films that we haven’t reviewed should we get to first? If you pick one of the silent films, you’re outta luck!