Master filmmaker Eric Rohmer ("Autumn Tale") returns with a change-of-pace film, miles removed from his usual sunny take on the human condition. Based on the memoirs of Grace Elliott, a Scottish woman who moved to France in 1786, not long before the Revolution, "L'Anglaise et le Duc" begins one year after that violent event with a civilized conversation between Grace (Lucy Russell) and her friend and former lover, the Duke of Orleans (Jean-Claude Dreyfus). Grace is loyal to the king of her adopted country but the Duke is on the side of the people, whom he feels are ill done by their undemocratic monarch. Those differing views don't seem insurmountable but in the next scene, there is an attack on the Palace and Grace is forced to flee Paris to her country home. Those long sequences as Grace tries to escape the city convey the fear and terror that the Revolution wrought in a unique manner and more effectively than any other film on the subject. But Rohmer goes a step further, showing the inexorable fallout from the fighting that followed, from the brutal murders of aristocrats and Royals to the threat to Grace, who is suspect because of her friendships with many enemies of the state.
Rohmer's likening of the viciousness of the French Revolution to the excesses of Stalinist Russia makes for heightened drama, which is perfectly interpreted by his skilled cast. Russell is especially fine as the stranger in a strange land.
Shooting on video digital for the first time, Rohmer had the backgrounds of the scenes painted and then inserted the actors, horses and carriages into the them. The result is ravishing but it is art in the service of story. At 81 years of age, Rohmer still has what it takes to make great movies.
Starring Lucy Russell and Jean-Claude Dreyfus. Directed and written by Eric Rohmer. Produced by Francoise Etchegaray. A Sony Pictures Classics release. Drama. French-language, subtitled. Rated PG-13 for some violent images. Running time: 129 min