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The Affair of the Necklace

Starring Hilary Swank; Jonathan Pryce, Simon Baker, Joely Richardson, Christopher Walken
Screenplay by John Sweet
Directed by Charles Shyer

IN SHORT: A grand Swindle. [Rated R for some sexuality. 120 minutes]

We don't see a lot of elaborate costume dramas, probably because they're expensive productions to mount. In the case of The Affair of the Necklace, the costumes and the setting comes in handy when the logic of the story takes a stumble or two. What comes across as a grand swindle to these American eyes is well known history to the French people. A voice over quote from Napoleon tells us so. It is only when the film veers off its main story, trying to show those historical effects, that it stumbles.

This is the story of the Valois family, direct descendants of Henry II. As we begin Papa Valois has pissed off the Monarchy and the family has been booted out of their chateaux. Poppa is killed. Mama dies soon after and little baby Jeanne grows up (to be Hilary Swank, click for StarTalk), holding onto the fervent wish that one day her name and her property will be restored. To accomplish that she needs access to the Queen, Marie Antoinette (Joely Richardson). To get access she needs a title, which a marriage of convenience, which the philandering Count Nicolas de la Mote (Adrian Brody), provides. Despite all her best efforts, Jeanne can't get near the Queen. So she is forced to take a more circuitous root.

At its core The Affair of the Necklace is country girl in the big city story. Jeanne is taken under the wing of a court gigolo Retaux (Simon Baker). Retaux teaches our fair lady that the only way to get anything done at Court is to know what your "target" wants. In this case, though, that would be what the Queen doesn't want -- a diamond necklace weighing in at over 2800 carats. Jeanne doesn't have the money to purchase such a valuable item, but the Cardinal of France (Jonathan Pryce) does. The Cardinal, named Rohan, doesn't want the necklace either. He wants to be Prime Minister but can't get any quality time with the Queen either. Jeanne convinces him that by presenting her Highness the necklace will help grease the political wheels. Aiding Jeanne is another legendary name, the Count Cagliostro (Christopher Walken) who is in for a piece of the profits -- which would add to the speculation that Cagliostro was a swindler of the highest order and not the miraculous healer and soothsayer he passed himself off as, were the film not "based" on real events. Jeanne's goal, you'll remember is to retrieve the family estate and historical detail will have to take a back seat to an even better story. Not that we think screenwriter John Sweet or director Charles Shyer are trying to pull a fast one. They've done their jobs almost perfectly as does Brian Cox as the Baron De Breteuil, of France and the only person at Court who suspects that a plot is afoot. While everyone else does their jobs well, Cox goes to town. He's the only member of the cast who looks as if he's relishing the gig, even though his role as the film's heavy isn't a traditional bad guy stereotype.

If Necklace had been a simple swindle, the story as shown would have been a knockdown winner. Problem is, there's this thing called the French Revolution that gets in the way of simple storytelling and leads to brief periods of confusion just after the film's climax. Not enough to wreck your movie going pleasure but enough to be mentioned. Christopher Walken's accent will throw anyone who's familiar with his Saturday Night Live "Continental" gigolo character but that will pass just as quickly. Everything else works so well about this film that forewarned is forearmed.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Affair of the Necklace, he would have paid . . .


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