Picture me, ten years ago. I was stylishly awkward with shoulder-length hair that I didn’t know how to style other than straighten it within an inch of its life. I wore pattern-clashing leggings and tops because I wanted to achieve the ‘art student’ look. I also had a LoveFilm subscription. For Gen Z-ers who don’t know, it was a DVD rental company hosted by Amazon that shut down in 2017. Fun fact, if you want, Netflix also rents out DVDs if you fancied going ‘vintage’ (or use my affiliate link for Cinema Paradiso!).
One day, 15-year-old Carrie was scrolling through LoveFilm and found a title named ‘D’Artagnan’s Daughter’. I had no other context but the title caught my eye and was keen to watch it. I learned only a tad more, in that it was about, you guessed, the daughter of D’Artagnan, one of the four musketeers. That was it. However, this film hovered on my rental list for ages and carried over to my Cinema Paradiso subscription. I even tried sourcing it elsewhere, but the internet seemed to forget that this even existed. Finally, after it lingered at the top of my list, I was sent the disc to this movie, 10 years after originally adding it to my list. So, was it worth the decade-long wait? Or was the emotional build-up greater than what I actually ended up watching?
France, 1654: D’Artagnan’s girl grows up in a convent. When the Mother Superior is murdered, Eloïse suspects a plan to murder the king and hopes to prevent this and revenge the murder by finding her father and the 3 musketeers.
The first problem with this film is its treatment of non-white characters. The film opens on a troubling note, following an African slave escaping from being trafficked by the bad guys, seeking sanctuary in a convent, with the nuns calling him ‘Beelzebub’ and the like. Tangentially, even though slavery and human trafficking is a key factor in the plot of the movie, we never get to know the slaves from a personal viewpoint, treated almost as objects for the white aristocracy to fight over. Similarly, the film is fairly liberal with the use of the N-word, that even for a film released in 1994 is fairly uncomfortable to listen to. It is not only black people that are subject to racist depictions. Native Americans, whilst never shown on screen, are referred to with racial-based slurs and are subtextually described as being prone to sexually assaulting white women.
Secondly, the film adds to the stereotype that disabled people are inherently evil, due to a comment Eloïse says that someone being one-eyed automatically means they’re bad. Or they are faking being disabled, as the same character reveals they do it to disguise themselves. No wonder we have a system that immediately doubts or dismisses people’s disabilities because we are taught to think we are making it up for attention or are just ‘bad people’.
The third overall issue with the film that has not aged well, is its treatment of women. Yes, the film’s supposed protagonist is a woman, but she is off-screen for roughly an hour of the film’s 2-hour runtime, giving meaningful character arcs to the male characters of the film. One of them was Quentin, Eloïse’s love interest, who had the characterisation of a wet towel. It did not help that their relationship was as underdeveloped and rushed as my GCSE revision. We hardly get to know Eloïse as a person, except that she likes wearing men’s clothing (though she is constantly asked to wear a dress by D’Artagnan), and that she is the spitting image of her mother, which makes the dynamic between her and her dad very weird. It does not help that Eloïse’s first line is ‘Wait until my father hears about this.’ Whilst I am sure Draco Malfoy would be proud, it’s not exactly screaming feminism. It instead reads as this ‘faux girl power’ the 90s loved to do as a tokenistic way of performing feminism without actually doing anything to promote gender equality. This is demonstrated by how Sophie Marceau has two scenes where her breasts are unnecessarily shown. Once when she unties her shirt to reveal them in front of a sleeping Quentin, and when her shirt is ripped off by the female antagonist to demonstrate how ‘expensive’ Eloïse should be as she is being trafficked. Top that all off with attempted sexual harassment, and then later having the classic trope of making the audience empathise with a female character because she was sexually assaulted, and you have a poorly aged movie.
Even if the movie did not have these problems, though it would be difficult for this movie to exist without them, it is also just poorly made. The score is ill-placed and does nothing to build atmosphere or build tension, and is almost instead used as scene transitions or montage equipment. The fight choreography is lacklustre at best, and downright naff at worst. The cinematography by Patrick Blossier is pleasant to look at, but it does not cover up the fact this film is an appalling mess.
The performances are good enough that they maintained my attention throughout. Sophie Marceau made a tragically under-characterised protagonist seem actually likeable and someone to root for. The actor playing Quentin, Nils Tavernier (the director’s son), was clearly cast as an act of nepotism, as he had no screen presence and felt like an outsider compared to the rest of the energetic and charismatic ensemble.
Even though I say all of this, I am glad I watched it now, rather than in my adolescence. I can’t imagine what my 15-year-old self would have accepted from watching this movie. Sometimes, films should stay in the year they were released and should not be welcomed in present-day values, and D’Artagnan’s Daughter is one of those movies.
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