‘Jeanne du Barry’ Brings Johnny Depp Back to the Big Screen

Maïwenn's take on the oft-covered figure avoids costume drama's musty reputation

Maïwenn’s “Jeanne du Barry” depicts the hard life of Madame du Barry, who rose out of poverty after her family left her in a Catholic boarding school when she was a child.

After gaining a reputation as a figure of adoration among high-society men, du Barry met King Louis XV, who was immediately smitten with her. The King arranged for du Barry to become his mistress and live with him in Versailles.

JEANNE DU BARRY - Official HD Trailer (2024) - Only In Cinemas

The movie, which opened the 2023 Cannes Film Festival and is already a hit overseas, was not only directed by Maïwenn but she also plays the title role. The former wife of director Luc Besson, Maïwenn is an accomplished actress and filmmaker; she was unforgettable playing the Diva Plavalaguna in Besson’s “The Fifth Element” (1997) and was one of the leads in the infamous “High Tension” (2005).

Yet, the most discussed bit of casting here is easily Johnny Depp, who is returning to acting after a three-year absence as the King. His performance follows the media circus around the defamation trial between him and his ex-wife.

“Jeanne du Barry” is far from the first film to depict the title figure – there are 10 films prior to this one, some of which were made during the silent era. In Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoiniette” (2005), du Barry was played by Asia Argento. Maïwenn’s film isn’t a costume drama rethink like Coppola’s radical film, or even a work that moved me as deeply as “The Young Victoria” (2009).

However, it’s not a stuffy, stodgy pageant, either. Maïwenn is clearly aiming to replicate the beauty, precision, and internalized drama of Stanley Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon” (1975). Maïwenn’s film, like “Barry Lyndon,” has immaculate sets and costumes, natural lighting, and a painterly framing of every single scene.


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Since Maïwenn is playing du Barry, the focus of nearly every single scene, and the film’s director, this is likely to be accused of being a vanity piece. Yet, while the film is on du Barry’s side, Maïwenn doesn’t hesitate to depict the title character as flawed and impulsive.

That said, this is also a tribute to du Barry, who is depicted here as an intelligent, driven and compassionate woman who knows how to play the game and work the rules of the system to her advantage. Maïwenn portrays her as ahead of her time, empathetic and forward thinking.

The presence of du Barry in Versailles is a scandal to all, except the King, who adores her. A running gag I loved is how everyone is instructed to shuffle away loudly from the King, never turning their back to him. This is initially addressed as an expected behavior but becomes an endearing in-joke shared between the King and du Barry.

Depp, always a character actor with a movie-star career, excels as King Louis XV, bringing humor and needed gravity to the tole without taking over the film. Yet, the film’s best, most layered and endearing performance comes from Benjamin Lavernhe as La Borde, who was an ally to the King and is depicted here as a sort of Professor Henry Higgins who coaches du Barry on the social rules of living in Versailles.

Lavernhe creates a mesmerizing figure, one that I always found myself watching closely to gauge his subtle but telling reactions in each scene.

“Jeanne du Barry” won’t emerge as a definitive take on its subject, though how could it be, since this version of the story remains only from du Barry’s perspective? Nevertheless, as a tribute to du Barry and a you-are-there immersion into a lost time, the film is enjoyable and engaging from start to finish.

Costume dramas can be stiff and patience testing, but this one emerges a work of passion.

Three Stars


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