Seen in 2018 (roughly thirty years after it was made), the French TV series, "La Comtesse de Charny" happens to have aged quite well, which is not the case of all the Gallic products of the kind.
Not that it is perfect.
True, it has a "feuilletonnesque" side. Yes, there are some gimmicks charateristic of the serial (and Alexandre Dumas, the famous writer adapted here, did not lay it on with a trowel in that respect), namely coincidences and improbabilities, sensational events, great outpourings, a.s.o., but they are in limited quantity and the good qualities of the finished product easily outnumber this (relative) defect. And between us, a little bit of soap provides a kind of guilty pleasure..., which is not to be despised!
Another defect which could be pinpointed is the liberties the writers take with history. And it is undeniable that in real life, Marie-Antoinette did not fall for Count of Charny (she had a lover but it was Axel de Fersen), that Joseph Balsamo/Cagliostro was not really such an omniscient gray eminence of the Revolution, and the same goes for a few other debatable details. For all that, much of what is shown in this ambitious saga (spanning a period ranging from 1770 to 1792, no less) displays commendable historical accuracy. Overall, the series presents a good insight into what France was like at the given period, particularly into the corridors of power: besides the two characters already mentioned, you will also meet, among others, Louis XV, Louis XVI, Rousseau, Lafayette, Mirabeau, Marat, Danton, Robespierre. And some of them like the two kings, Marie-Antoinette or Mirabeau are far from being mere silhouettes. Which does not mean the masses are absent from this entertaining epic. Billot, a farmer and Ange Pitou, a young peasant (both turned revolutionaries) are the main representative of the common people and, although fictitious, prove true to life.
All in all, Marion Sarraut's camera captures in a commendably faithful way the spirit of the times, from the end-of reign atmosphere at Versailles to the turmoil of the Revolution. Which provides a suitable backdrop to the momentous adventures and loves of Andrée de Taverney, later Countess of Charny and all those, famous or not, around her. On the plus side as well - and very much so - is the director's ability to find the right performer for each character and to direct them to perfection: Unforgettable for instance are Eric Prat as the doomed Louis XVI, a little soft around the edges, somewhat hesitating but full of good will, of humility, practicality and common sense, eager to be loved by his people ; Jean François Garreaud, his deep manly voice and his dark imposing presence as Balsamo/Cagliostro; Philippe Clay and his inimitable way to play the every day cynicism of Andrée's father ; Patrick Farru, displaying with an equal talent the opposite qualities (freshness of soul, born generosity) in the shoes of young Ange Pitou, etc, etc. Not everybody, on the other hand, likes Isabelle Guiard's Marie-Antoinette, mainly because of her fake Austrian accent. I personnally do not mind this alleged defect, first due to the fact that I am no expert at Austrian accent but mainly because I admire her creation of a very complex Marie-Antoinette. When I have added that he actress plays a double role (she parallelly embodies an evil French maidservant without an accent!) you will understand that I find her performance worthy of interest. It would be too long to name all the cast, which is a pity since all give full satisfaction, from the most important parts (Anne Jacquemin, Alain Payen, Benoît Vallès, Patrice Alexsandre, future humorist Stéphane Guillon... in a romantic part) to the smallest ones (Armand Mestral, Dora Doll, Yves Brainville...).
Each episode is well-paced, accompanied by a very efficient score by Jean-Paul Guiot, and as is the case for a good serial, you crave to know what happens next. In a word, you are hooked. Marion Sarraut aimed to move, educate and entertain us : mission accomplished. And so well accomplished that in 2018, the attraction of « La Comtesse de Charny » has remained undiminished.
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