Original title:Firebrand
Director:Karim Aïnouz
Running time:120 minutes
Release date:Not communicated
Catherine Parr is the sixth wife of King Henry VIII, whose previous husbands have been repudiated or beheaded, only one having died of disease. With the help of her ladies-in-waiting, she finds herself fighting for her own survival and avoiding the bishop, the court and the king's traps...

Mulder's Review

Director Karim Aïnouz's Firebrand invites viewers to discover a bygone era, immersing them in the fascinating world of Tudor England. Boasting an exceptional cast, led by Alicia Vikander and Jude Law, the film offers a fresh perspective on a period often relegated to historical clichés and romanticized accounts. Though not without its flaws, Firebrand manages to bring the history books to life, shedding light on the often overlooked story of Katherine Parr.

Set against the tumultuous backdrop of the 1540s, the film introduces us to Katherine Parr, the sixth and last wife of King Henry VIII. Alicia Vikander's performance is complex and layered, capturing the essence of a woman determined to make her own way in a patriarchal society. Her interactions with Erin Doherty's Anne Askew, an incendiary preacher who advocates reform, offer a captivating juxtaposition of different forms of resistance against the status quo.

The film's visual aesthetic is quite remarkable. Hélène Louvart's cinematography bathes the scenes in muted, Rembrandt-like light, evoking a sense of authenticity that transports the audience to the heart of Tudor England. Attention to detail in period costumes and sets is evident, adding depth and authenticity to the film's world.

Jude Law's portrayal of King Henry VIII is a real tour de force. He exudes a blend of charm, volatility and a pervasive sense of entitlement that perfectly encapsulates the character's traits, as documented in history. Law's performance transforms Henry from a larger-than-life historical figure into a vividly human and often repulsive individual, grappling with his insecurities and desires.

However, Firebrand is not without its pitfalls. The film's attempt to present Katherine Parr as a proto-feminist revolutionary seems at times underdeveloped and overshadowed by the male-dominated dynamics of the court. Despite Alicia Vikander's solid performance, the character's journey sometimes takes a back seat to the more flamboyant personalities surrounding her.

The screenplay, written by the Ashworth sisters, strikes a difficult balance between historical accuracy and narrative commitment. Although certain historical liberties are taken for dramatic effect, the film remains rooted in the atmosphere and essence of the period. The pace, however, occasionally falters, leading to moments of wandering that detract from the film's momentum.

Firebrand triumphs, however, in its depiction of court politics, where alliances change like the tides and whispers in corridors have as much power as proclamations from the throne. The supporting cast, including Eddie Marsan, Sam Riley and Simon Russell Beale, reinforce the tapestry of intrigue that envelops the story.

Despite a few missteps, Firebrand is a captivating historical drama, full of tension and authenticity. The film illustrates the struggles of women in a time of great change, while offering a window into the tumultuous reign of Henry VIII. As viewers navigate the labyrinthine corridors of Tudor power, they are treated to a sumptuous visual experience that, while not perfect, leaves a lasting impression.

Firebrand may not rewrite history, but it certainly rekindles our fascination with the past, encouraging us to revisit these historic figures in a new light. With its outstanding performances, lush visuals and captivating narrative, the film fans the embers of curiosity and invites audiences to immerse themselves in a world of political turmoil and personal triumph.

Directed by Karim Aïnouz
Screenplay by Henrietta Ashworth, Jessica Ashworth
Based on Queen's Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle
Produced by Carolyn Marks Blackwood, Gabrielle Tana
Starring Alicia Vikander, Jude Law, Sam Riley, Eddie Marsan, Simon Russell Beale, Erin Doherty
Cinematography : Hélène Louvart
Music by Dickon Hinchliffe
Production companies : Brouhaha Entertainment, Magnolia Mae Films
Distributed by Amazon Prime Video
Release date : 21 May 2023 (Cannes)
Running time : 120 minutes

Seen on September 1 2023 at Deauville international center

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