In the Paris of the mob, during the French Revolution, a patrician British lady supports the monarchy and defies the citizens' committees that rule the streets. She does this not in the kind of lame-brained action story we might fear, but with her intelligence and personality--outwitting the louts who come to search her bedroom, even as a wanted man cowers between her mattresses.
Eric Rohmer's "The Lady and the Duke" is an elegant story about an elegant woman, told in an elegant visual style. It moves too slowly for those with impaired attention spans, but is fascinating in its style and mannerisms. Like all of the films in the long career of Rohmer, it centers on men and women talking about differences of moral opinion.
At 81, Rohmer has lost none of his zest and enthusiasm. The director, who runs up five flights of stairs to his office every morning, has devised a daring visual style in which the actors and foreground action are seen against artificial tableaux of Paris circa 1792. These are not "painted backdrops," but meticulously constructed perspective drawings, which are digitally combined with the action in a way that is both artificial and intriguing.
His story is about a real woman, Grace Elliott (Lucy Russell), who told her story in a forgotten autobiography Rohmer found 10 years ago. She was a woman uninhibited in her behavior and conservative in her politics, at onetime the lover of the Prince of Wales (later King George IV), then of Phillipe, the Duke of Orleans (father of the future king Louis Phillipe). Leaving England for France and living in a Paris townhouse paid for by the Duke (who remains her close friend even after their ardor has cooled), she refuses to leave France as the storm clouds of revolution gather, and survives those dangerous days even while making little secret of her monarchist loyalties.