The Man in the Iron Mask is a 1998 film adaptation of The Vicomte De Bragelonne (1847-1850) by Alexandre Dumas. The original serial novel was a sequel to The Three Musketeers. The film was the first directed by Randall Wallace, previously known for writing Braveheart. The main stars were Leonardo DiCaprio, Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Gabriel Byrne, Gérard Depardieu and Anne Parillaud.The year is 1662. Gone are Cardinal Richelieu (died 1642) and Louis XIII of France (died 1643). France is ruled by Louis XIV (DiCaprio), son of his predecessor. He is a militarist who is already bankrupting the country with unpopular wars. Privately, Louis follows a hedonistic lifestyle and keeps many mistresses. Meanwhile, the peasants of Paris are starving and a food riot begins. Louis XIV commands one of his advisors to send rotten food to the rioters. The riot stops temporarily, the people get sick and the advisor is executed for "his" crime.So, what has happened to the Musketeers? Aramis (Irons), Athos (Malkovich) and Porthos (Depardieu) have retired from service. Aramis is now a Jesuit priest. Porthos spends much of his free time frequenting brothels. Athos has become a single father. His son Raoul (Peter Sarsgaard) currently serves in the French Army. Only D'Artagnan (Byrne) is still in the service of the King. Enraged by receiving rotten food, starving people march to the gates of Louis' palace, and the guards prepare to fire. D'Artagnan prevents a massacre from occurring, winning over the crowd with his popularity and promise to speak with Louis over the matter. He also thwarts an assassination attempt on Louis by a man who exhorts "feed your people." However things change abruptly. Raoul is about to marry Christine (Judith Godreche), a woman who Louis wants to add to his mistresses, so Louis gets Raoul killed in a Uriah Gambit, leaving Louis free to seduce Christine. Louis also orders the assassination of whoever is the secret leader of the French Jesuits, which happens to be Aramis. Now both Aramis and Athos have reasons to hate Louis. They recruit Porthos in a plot against Louis.Aramis is aware that Louis has a twin brother. Said brother Philippe (DiCaprio again) is the titular Man in the Iron Mask, kept prisoner to prevent him from claiming the throne. He is gentler and more compassionate than Louis. Their plot involves releasing Philippe and having him impersonate Louis, effectively replacing the King with a new one. They will have to face D'Artagnan, still loyal to Louis. They will also have to learn a secret Anne of Austria (Parillaud), widow of Louis XIII and mother of the boys, has kept to herself.
This film provides examples of:
Aluminum Christmas Trees: Many viewers probably laughed at the "anachronistic" fountains on the grounds of the French royal palace. Truth is, not only were they real, but they're also Older Than They Think: the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, (constructed in the 14th century) has fountains powered not by electricity, but by gravity, with an aqueduct that brings water from the uphill Darro river.
There was an actual Man in the Iron Mask imprisoned in the Bastille. His identity is very much speculated on.
Anachronism Stew: Part of the action takes place in the Palace of Versailles. While the palace construction did start in 1661, the initial building phase finished in 1664. That means that it is way too early for the King to move in.
Louis XIV's chamber has a hanging portrait... of Louis XV.
Artistic License - History: The ending narration says that Louis XIV brought his country and his subjects prosperity and peace. In real life, Louis spent most of his reign waging war, never changing his ways.
It makes more sense that this should be understood as an alternative history/fairytale, not a mistake per se. A sort of "if our dear heroes had been there, they could have saved the other prince and we would have known peace and prosperity!"
At no point is it made clear that the Jesuits are a religious order of priests and brothers. Besides Aramis, the other Jesuits in the film don't wear clerical clothing, so it makes them look like a cabal akin to the Assassins or Templars in Assassin's Creed - especially since a Jesuit (or suspected Jesuit) in disguise tries to kill Louis.
Ass Shove: Porthos shoves a pistol up the behind of a belligerent brothel patron.
Becoming the Mask: After the coup, Philippe reigns under Louis' identity for the rest of his life.
Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Louis XIV had a twin brother that was imprisoned from birth and became the (historical) Man in the Iron Mask. He was then abducted and substitued with this brother by the Musketeers. Also, D'Artagnan (another historical figure) was the real father of both.
Briar Patching: Philippe does some impromptu and rather inspired Briar Patching after he's been recaptured, begging his Jerk Ass brother to kill him rather than put him back in prison. With predictable results. When Athos, Porthos and Aramis arrive to rescue Philippe, he's ready and waiting for them rather than being the emotional wreck they were expecting. When asked, he just reminds them that "I wear the mask, it does not wear me."
Appropriately Louis does have a complete mental breakdown after he is forced to wear the mask.
Bungled Suicide: At some point, Porthos gets depressed and believes he has nothing to go on living for. He kisses the tavern girls goodbye and goes into the barn to hang himself. Naked. We hear a big thud, and Porthos swearing. Aramis knew Porthos would try to commit suicide and sawed through the beam.
Butt Monkey: Pierre, Louis' chief adviser. At least until about halfway through the film.
The Coup: The plot centers around a group of musketeers who want to substitute their tyrannical king Louis XIV with his more compassionate twin brother Phillippe, who was kept prisoner to prevent him from taking the throne. They break him out of prison to perform a Coup.
Dangerously Genre Savvy: Louis. Not only does he correctly predict D'Artagnan's coming betrayal, he also predicts the escape method D'Artagnan will provide his friends and cuts him off with a large force of musketeers.
Hired to Hunt Yourself: The Jesuits are actively opposing the king, so he decides to put a man in charge of finding their father general and killing him. Of course, he chooses one of his close allies: Aramis, who turns out to be the Jesuit father general.
If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him: Or rather, If You Imprison Him In An Iron Mask For The Rest Of His Life, You Will Be Just Like Him. Phillipe ultimately pardons Louis and allows him to retire to the country in comfortable exile, utterly proving himself the better man.
Masquerade Ball: Figures prominently in the attempt to replace Louis with Philippe. With the added bonus that the hidden twin had spent his entire life wearing a heavy iron mask, which he flashes to the king from under the decorative gold one to freak him out, along with the Three Musketeers.
Meaningless Meaningful Words: In reply to a perfectly sensible lament of Queen Anne, Aramis came out with a memorable bit of important-sounding nonsense.
Anne: "I have raised a son who destroys lives instead of saving them, and I have failed to save a son who died within an iron mask. Aramis: "No! That mask was Louis' creation. Now we have a chance to make a miracle. To strip all masks away forever."
Considering the extent of his plan is to replace the nasty-creep brother on the throne with his nice-guy brother, that last statement makes absolutely no sense.
Melancholy Moon: Shortly after his first escape from prison, Philippe is unable to sleep and spends time gazing at the full moon. Not only is he overcome with the beauty of the moon he had been unable to fully witness while in prison, but he's also burdened by the sheer weight of responsibility and expectations demanded of him by his rescuers.
My Master, Right or Wrong: D'Artagnan is blindly loyal to Louis, despite his evil and capricious nature, because he is Louis' father. Eventually he comes around to the other musketeers' viewpoint that he must go, when he learns that their look-alike for the king is Louis' twin brother. Thus another son of his.
Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Some characters sport Just a Stupid Accent with more or less success, while Leonardo DiCaprio doesn't seem to even try while playing the King of France. Gerard Depardieu's actual French accent puts the lie to everyone else, though. As do Anne Parillaud and Judith Godreche's.
Out-of-Character Alert / Spotting the Thread: What first tips off D'Artagnan that Phillipe has replaced Louis is when Phillipe tries to help up a noblewoman who tripped in front of him, while the real Louise would have probably just laughed at her.
Still Wearing The Old Colors: At the climax, the musketeers don their old uniforms to demonstrate loyalty to a higher, older, and more principled calling as they rise in rebellion to depose the king and replace him with his twin brother.
Swashbuckler: With the Musketeers involved, this was hardly a surprise.
True Companions/Band of Brothers: The Three Musketeers, of course. The "Fourth Musketeer" D'Artagnan is opposed to them out of loyalty to the King, but sides with them at the end. All for one, one for all!
Notably, Porthos doesn't have a personal grievance with Louis (Aramis is the Jesuit head who Louis wants dead, and Athos lost his son because of Louis) but he goes along with their plot because of their fellowship and for the greater good (and because he wants to experience adventure again).
Uriah Gambit: King Louis XIV, upon finding out that one of the women he desires is already engaged to a soldier, sends him to the front lines to die in battle. Though the plan succeeds, it also backfires since it gains Louis the enmity of the soldier's father, one of the legendary Three Musketeers. (And he doesn't get what he wanted, either, because the woman he planned to seduce figures out his plot and decides to commit suicide rather than live with him.)
Weird Moon: Just after he's been freed from the prison for the first time, Philippe can't sleep and ends up at the window gazing at the full moon that he had struggled so hard to see while in prison. The moon is huge. Doubles as a Melancholy Moon given the poignancy of the emotions in the scene.