Adapted from the play of the same name written by Marivaux in 1732, this film, released in 2001, is one of those lesser-known gems that publicity forgot. Starring Mira Sorvino, Sir Ben Kingsley, and Fiona Shaw; it is a fast-paced romp through concealed identities, cross-dressing, lost heirs, and the always-interesting enlightened mind versus an open heart.
Mira Sorvino plays an unnamed princess who discovers that although her parents usurped the throne from the rightful King and Queen, there was a little prince, now hidden away by a philosopher and his sister (Kingsley and Shaw), who is the true heir. Determined to make things right by marrying the now-grown prince, Aegis, she goes to the philosopher's home disguised as a man, only to find that the prince hates her and despises all women and love. Hilarity ensuses as the princess uses seduction, bribery, and wit to win over all three of her foes independently of one another.
But can a foundation of lies ever lead to true happiness? In this version, somehow, everyone gets what they need, even if it is not what they want. Ben Kingsley is as amazing as ever in his role as the single-minded philosopher Hermocrates, who although he becomes ever more ridiculous is always full of pathos. Fiona Shaw delivers a performance inspired not merely a little by the enlightenment scientist Emilie du Chatelet, and well-embodies the trials of a serious woman in a man's world. Sorvino likewise acquits herself well, bouncing from petulant to joyful, uncertain to determined in a heartbeat.
The only two things to mar an otherwise stellar film is the odd breaking of the fourth wall at times, with views of an audience, plainly seen by the viewer as well as the actors, but that can be chalked up to an attempt to remind us of the origins of the piece in Marivaux's play; and the one-note performance of Jay Rodan as Aegis. He is shown taking little action on his own behalf until the last moments of the film, and whether angry or confused reacts in much the same way. One is left wondering if the kingdom wouldn't be better without his participation in its governance.
Still, it is a fun period movie filmed in the lush landscape of Tuscany, with an authentic 18th century feel to the story and language. Nothing too weighty here, this is a perfect film for rainy afternoons, background noise while sewing, or anything at all.
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