Rocks in Her Head

Cardinal Rules: Hilary Swank and Jonathan Pryce in Necklace.Photo: Murray Close

Beware the period epic that announces it’s “based on true events.” The authenticity – not so much of historical detail but of emotion – rarely feels so. Case in point: The Affair of the Necklace. Set during the waning reign of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, it’s very big on flouncy garb and the assorted filigree of the royal court; the tailors for this movie must be congratulated.

Smothered somewhere inside all the upholstery is a story trying to break out, but how can it when the costumes are more expressive than the people wearing them? This is the sort of movie where a character can say something like “I have thought about that unpleasant eventuality” with a straight face. And while it’s a time-honored Hollywood convention to require just about everyone in a French costume drama to speak with an English accent, maybe it’s time to retire the practice: Would it be so terrible if the actors in this movie spoke English with a French accent instead of sounding like a gaggle of Parliamentarians? Or were the filmmakers afraid that everybody would end up sounding like Pepe Le Pew?

Hilary Swank plays Jeanne de la Motte-Valois, who was born into a family descended from Henry II, the sixteenth-century king of France, but whose parents, falling fatally out of favor with the royals, left her an impoverished orphan. Though she is obsessed with restoring her name and family estate, her entreaties are repeatedly rebuffed by the foppish meanies at the court of Versailles. When Jeanne, desperate, fakes an attention-getting swoon in the presence of Marie Antoinette (Joely Richardson), the queen simply sniffs and moves on (the sheer tonnage of her wig would appear to be endangering her neck in advance of the guillotine).

Jeanne cooks up a plot to procure a fabulously expensive, 2,800-carat diamond necklace under the pretense of presenting it to the queen. In truth, she plans to sell it, piece by piece, in order to buy her name back, and she engages in her machinations everyone from the vain Cardinal de Rohan (Jonathan Pryce), angling to be prime minister, to the court gigolo, Rétaux de Villette (Simon Baker), and the cardinal’s mesmerist, Count Cagliostro (Christopher Walken, who is so floridly outré here that he steals whatever show there is to steal). The unintended result of all this – you’ll have to take the film’s word for it – is nothing less than the fall of the French aristocracy and the onset of the French Revolution. Charles Shyer, who directed from a script by John Sweet, wants us to recognize the parallels to today’s political sex scandals, but the parallelism doesn’t work: Whatever Bill Clinton may have been guilty of, he doesn’t deserve to be blamed for this film. Hilary Swank has a delicate beauty in close-up, but she plays her character’s single-mindedness too single-mindedly. Jeanne never takes any real pleasure in her deceptions; her glower grows old fast.

The necklace in this movie was crafted by the elite London jewelers Asprey and Gerrard – out of cubic-zirconium stones. That’s just about perfect. The Affair of the Necklace is a cubic-zirconium epic.

The hirsute, porcine adult-film actor Ron Jeremy has a double-jointed specialty that assures he will never be lonely. Known semi-affectionately in the business as “the Hedgehog,” he’s the all-too-willing subject of Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy. This unrated documentary, which contains no hard-core shots, could have used more hog and less hedge, if you catch my drift: When Jeremy drones on about his quest to be cast in mainstream movies, dullness sets in. (For porno actors, dreaming of mainstream Hollywood success is like comedians’ wanting to play Hamlet.)

Director Scott J. Gill makes much of the fact that this porno vet, with his stuffed-derma physique and 1,600 films to his credit, is really just a nice Jewish boy from Queens. Where’s the big surprise in that? Once we hear from Jeremy that the only reason he attended temple as a boy was for the Danish, there’s nothing more to shock us.

The Affair of the Necklace
Starring Hilary Swank.
Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy
Documentary directed by Scott J. Gill.

Rocks in Her Head