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Film / The Affair of the Necklace

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The Affair of the Necklace is a 2001 film set in 18th Century France and based on historical events, directed by Charles Shyer and starring Hilary Swank, Jonathan Pryce, Christopher Walken, Simon Baker, Adrien Brody, Joely Richardson, and Brian Cox.

Jeanne de Saint-Rémy de Valois (Hayden Panettiere as a child, Swank as an adult) is orphaned as a young girl and determined to restore the wealth and privilege that was lost to her family; Marie Antoinette (Richardson) refuses to help her, so she - along with Rétaux de Villette (Baker) and her husband Nicolas (Brody) - set out to get it via other means. The necklace of the title was intended by King Louis XV for his mistress Madame du Barry, but he passed away before she could have it; the jewellers later tried to sell it to Marie Antoinette, but she refused. Jeanne's plan involves subterfuge to acquire the necklace and its jewels for herself and her conspirators, with unfortunate consequences—French Revolution-level unfortunate—for all concerned...

This film provides examples of:

  • A Minor Kidroduction: Four minutes into the prologue show Jeanne as a preteen in the late 1760s.
  • A Taste of the Lash: Happens to the countess.
  • Artistic License History: As mentioned below, the film changes several key events of Jeanne's life to make her seem more sympathetic:
    • In the film, it is shown that Jeanne and her family were rich and had a family estate. In reality, Jeanne and her family were very poor, living in the slums of Paris.
    • The film portrays Jeanne as a member of the House of Valois. In reality, she was a member of an illegitimate branch of the family, the house of Valois-Saint-Remy, descended from Henry de Saint Rémy, an illegitimate son of Henry II.
    • According to her memoirs, Jeanne's father was the son of a minor nobleman. Her father was deep in debt and sold off the family property when Jeanne was young. There is no mentioning of him being a reformist like in the film. He tried to regain his wealth when the family moved to Paris, but he died later and Jeanne's mother ran away, leaving her children to beg on the streets. Jeanne and her family was seen as no threat to the current monarchy.
    • Jeanne was in fact a con-artist, who sought to use the necklace to gain wealth, power, and possibly royal patronage. In the film, Jeanne used the diamonds as profit to buy her family estate.
    • Jeanne did escape to London, disguised as a boy, where she died from falling from a hotel window in 1791. Some speculate that she was trying to hide from tax payers, while others say it was an act of revenge from French royalists.
    • Cardinal de Rohan actually kept the forged letters. When he was arrested, he presented the letters and the sales contract to the king, the queen, the Minister of the Court, and the Keeper of the Seals. The king furiously pointed out the forged signature "Marie Antoniette de France" and stated that royalty do not use surnames. In the film, de Rohan had the letters burned.
  • Artifact of Doom: The titular diamond necklace.
  • Based on a True Story: The general events of the movie did happen in real life. Just not as romanticized as the film would have you think. Jeanne was a simple con-woman out for money and power in reality, for example.
  • Corrupt the Cutie: Jeanne is painfully naive at first but having her legitimate request ignored and Retaux's influence corrupt her.
  • Country Mouse: Jeanne when she first arrives in Versailles is said to be unsophisticated and unfashionable.
  • Dances and Balls: After all it is the time of Marie Antoinette.
  • Decadent Court: To the point where the peasants had enough and chopped their heads off.
  • Dirty Old Monk: The Cardinal starts to lust after the queen.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Queen Marie Antoinette ignores Jeanne's overtures of friendship and Jeanne implicates the queen in a scandal.
  • Fluffy Fashion Feathers: All the fashionable and elegant ladies of Versailles wear them. Including Jeanne as her fortunes improve.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: The real Jeanne was a straight-up con-artist and not nearly as sympathetic as the film makes out her to be.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: The Cardinal believes Jeanne when she says she is a confidante of the queen. He also listens to his occultist.
  • Impoverished Patrician: Jeanne
  • Lady in Red: Adult Jeanne appears in a red dress during Marie Antoinette's performance in the Petit Trianon. While Retaux is intrigued the ladies of the court dismiss the dress as unfashionable.
  • Never My Fault: Jeanne seems to have this mindset, Marie Antoinette calls her out on it.
  • Never Sent Any Letters: One step of Jeanne's plan is to hire an actress to pose as Queen Marie Antoinette, and write torrid love letters to Cardinal de Rohan, to gain his help (since he bears some profound affection for the French Queen) - and to use the letters as blackmail material. When the conspiracy falls apart, Cardinal de Rohan is brought before the queen and mentions the love letters. When Maria Antoinette states she has no recollection of any correspondence between them, Rohan realizes he has been duped by the Comtesse.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Jeanne's plot eventually snowballed into the revolution.
  • Nothing Personal: After her deception is discovered Jeanne tells Marie Antoinette that she never meant to harm her. The queen is visibly irritated.
  • Off with His Head!: Given the event everything is leading to over the course of the movie, it's kind of inevitable.
  • The Queen's Latin: Although set in France, most of the principals speak with English accents.
  • Rage Against the Reflection: Marie Antoinette hurls a vase toward a mirror when Cardinal de Rohan is found innocent by the parliament.
  • Royal Blood: Jeanne is of the royal house of Valois. The Cardinal also is a prince of the house of Rohan.