The Affair of the Necklace
By Charles Cassady Jr.,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Mature themes, big stars in French Rev. intrigue.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
The script makes a heroine out of Jeanne and justifies her lies, forgeries, and impostures as a means of getting back what was stolen from her -- though how her scheme is supposed to really do that gets lost in the intrigue. In the trial finale the various conspirators are judged and punished for their crimes, and it's hard not to agree with the sentences (even if the filmmakers obviously don't). A Catholic cardinal is a sex-mad hypocrite. Marital fidelity doesn't mean much here.
Violence & Scariness
One character shot (in an embarrassing place). Others are threatened with bullets or evisceration by knife. Quick, impressionist scenes of violence include soldiers battering through a house, beating, kicking, and killing residents; a whipping and a branding with a hot poker; and a grim procession to the guillotine for a condemned prisoner being executed. These are shown in quick bursts, without graphic bloodshed, though there's no doubt what's going on.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Lots of cleavage-baring fashions and push-up corsets, with a quick shot of toplessness in a languid, drunken orgy-type atmosphere. The heroine is not very faithful in her marriage (nor is her husband). She strips down in shadow for sex with her new lover, but their act is interrupted. A clergyman with a corrupt reputation appears to try to force her into oral sex.
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Products & Purchases
No brand names, but diamonds are fondled lovingly and often.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Hookah-style pipes in what appears to be an 18th-century drug party. Social and private bon-vivant drinking.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that there is brief female toplessness in what looks like a drug-sodden aristocratic orgy. The (unhappily married) heroine tries to have sex with her boyfriend; later her husband does the same with an actress. Violence includes shooting, beating, and kicking, soldiers executing a man, and a public whipping, branding, and execution by guillotine, though the filmmakers refrain from plunging us into all the ugly details; it's mostly quick MTV-style edits. One character is a corrupt, sexually active Catholic cardinal. Kids making the real-life Jeanne de la Motte-Valois their school-report heroine should know that historians (and even earlier movie adaptations) regard her negatively -- a dodgy con-artist, rather than the romanticized avenger admired here.
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What's the Story?
THE AFFAIR OF THE NECKLACE dramatizes an 18th-century scandal and courtroom trial that sullied the king and queen of France with bad PR on the eve of the French Revolution. Jeanne de la Motte-Valois (Hilary Swank) is introduced as a little girl of noble birth, orphaned when her father is killed by French royal Imperial Stormtroopers for dubious reasons. Still on the fringes of the aristocracy via her loveless marriage to a philanderer, Jeanne seeks the return of her estate and prestige by appealing to Marie Antoinette (Joely Richardson). But when the queen just ignores her, Jeanne hooks up with another palace wastrel (Simon Baker), who becomes her lover and co-conspirator. They hatch a scheme to dupe the politically ambitious (and lusty) Catholic clergyman, Cardinal de Rohan (Jonathan Pryce), into falsely thinking Marie Antoinette wants his help in procuring an enormously costly diamond necklace, at a time when citizens are already furious about the monarchy's wasteful spending.
Is It Any Good?
Centered more on intrigue and tabloid-grade duplicity than politics, The Affair of the Necklace has a slightly soap-operatic script. This makes it a case of Jeanne's righteous revenge snowballing into a scandal that doomed the French aristocracy -- which is probably overstating the truth a bit. Many books have dissected why the French Revolution happened, but the message here is that Marie Antoinette's apathy toward Jeanne (and, by extension, the rest of the citizenry) while the royals enjoyed fun, games, and wealth at Versailles, brought the wrath of the masses and a sentence of the guillotine.
Movies oversimplifying mighty historical events are nothing new, and the portrayal of idle decadence and spiritual charlatans (the Cardinal for starters) atop the 18th-century European social ladder is done well here.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the real-life circumstances of the French Revolution, and how the incidents of this film figure into it. You could research the fall of the monarchy, and perhaps fact-check whether this movie exaggerated the importance of the "necklace affair" or not, and maybe look into other screen portrayals or biographies of Marie Antoinette and her downfall. Did she get a royal raw deal, or was she asking for it? Are there any similar celebrities (or first ladies) around today?
- In theaters: November 30, 2001
- On DVD or streaming: June 25, 2002
- Cast: Adrien Brody, Hilary Swank, Jonathan Pryce
- Director: Charles Shyer
- Studio: Warner Home Video
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 117 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: some sexuality.
- Last updated: February 1, 2023
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