The Affair of the Necklace
Directed by Charles Shyer
Written by John Sweet
Starring Hilary Swank, Jonathan Pryce


The Affair of the Necklace

Maybe Hilary Swank should stick to playing boys. On the evidence of "The Affair of the Necklace," with her flat, uninflected American voice and graceless body she certainly can't do period drama. We can sympathize with her wanting to break out of the mold of "Boys Don't Cry," but someone is just being cruel to her by casting her in a film like this.

"The Affair of the Necklace" is not a bad story, though the writer, John Sweet, has come at it the wrong way. He has found a forgotten footnote to the story of Marie Antoinette's last few years as the wife of Louis XVI, and blown it up into the cause of the collapse of the monarchy. In his version, which begins with a flashback to 1762, the child Jeanne, who expects to grow up to be the Comtesse de la Motte-Valois, is cruelly disappointed when the king (Louis XV, the father of XVI) has her father executed for being too kind to the peasants and takes away her land and title.

Cut to twenty years later, when Jeanne, now played by Hilary, hangs around Versailles desperate for an audience with Marie, hoping to have her title and land restored. But cruel Marie won't even see her, so big Jeanne conceives of a major scam. She will persuade the lecherous Cardinal de Rohan (Jonathan Pryce) that Marie Antoinette is in love with him, she will swindle the court jewelers out of their 2000-carat (!) diamond necklace - which in the film looks like it came from Fred Meyer's discount jewelry department - and, I'm not sure exactly how, get the king and queen to give back her lands and title.

If you recall your French history, you know that although things end up very badly for Marie, poor Jeanne is in no way the cause of her downfall; the film makes a mistake in trying to persuade us that she is. The con itself would have been enough for a film to build on, without carrying the burden of bringing on the French Revolution. Swindles, successful or not, often make for wonderful films, and if the writer and director (Charles Shyer) had trusted this one they might have had a greater success. But between the insistence on adding historical weight to the story and Swank's ineptitude in the role - she can't even wear a gown believably - the film just sinks without a trace.

Some otherwise decent actors are wasted in the service of this plot, including Simon Baker as a gigolo friend of Jeanne's; Adrien Brody, with his knife-edge of a nose, as her title-hungry husband; Christopher Walken as the powerful fraud Cagliostro; and even Brian Cox, the pedophile of "L.I.E.," as Breteuil, the master of the royal household. In case you're worried, though, I can tell you that while royalty is a goner here, Jeanne survives to live through the revolution in England. Now are you happy?