Staid, stiff and stately history, “Queen Marie,” titled “Queen Marie of Romania” in Europe, plays like a lesser installment of “Masterpiece Theatre,” a reminder that not everything in costume and ripped from the pages of royal history is a “masterpiece.”
It’s about the granddaughter of Queen Victoria, who married a Hohenzollern (tied to the Kaiser of Germany, but also descended from Victoria) and found herself the unlikely heroine of her adoptive country by charming, challenging and intimidating the leaders of the Four (victorious) Powers at the peace talks where empires were divvied up in Paris at the end of World War I.
Those negotiations, where the leaders of France, Britain, Italy and the United States made most of the decisions, were infamous for a lot of reasons. The reparations imposed on a bellicose Germany, setting up the grievances that led to World War II, was most infamous. But it’s also where The Balfour Declaration about Palestine’s status and other arbitrary “lines on a map” were made that set the stage for the a century of conflict in the Middle East, and where the imperious imperialists dismissed an Indochinese delegate pleading for independence, a fellow who became famous himself — Ho Chi Minh.
Queen Marie, played by Romanian Roxana Lupu, was once a great beauty pursued by a cousin who later become King George V of France. Here, she’s pretty but matronly, a mother with a spoiled, short-tempered adult son (Anghel Damian) determined to marry his bedmate — not a royal — and carry on adding to his car collection, and another son in university in Britain, and a few younger daughters to tend to.
But Romania is in crisis. It was on the wrong front of the Great War, an Entente ally whose fate was tied to Russia, and when Russia folded, Romania was occupied and forced to sign a treaty with Germany. That has the other allies inclined to ignore territorial claims — Transylvania, among them — that the government feels should be under its flag.
The barking, bellowing prime minister (Adrian Titieni) is good at getting ignored. American president Woodrow Wilson (Patrick Drury) never misses a chance to walk out on the strident man’s increasingly irate pleas (in English and Romanian with English subtitles).
“The American president can’t even find Romania on the map!” Well, as he was a university president, maybe that tag is meant for a later president.
With the Western world starting to share the right to vote with women, maybe “It’s high time women expressed their opinions.”
Romania’s queen lobbies the politicians and her husband, King Ferdinand (David Plier), no more Romanian by birth than her, to let her have a go at it. After all, she is a queen, “granddaughter of Victoria,” which still impresses the Brits. She can ask “Cousin George” (King George V of the UK, played by Nicholas Boulton) for help.
With “the will and the heart of the nation” at her back, she packs up the princesses, arrives in Paris and being the lone royal about, proceeds to dazzle the press and slowly wrangle her way to meetings with Clemenceau, David Lloyd George and Wilson. She tries pleas to their humanity, charm (on Wilson’s royally-awed wife). And when that fails, she lights into one or two in her best “WHO is Queen?” voice.
“I would be careful where you draw your lines, Mr. Prime Minister. The consequences might be felt 100 years from now!”
After all, if they let Romania down, perhaps it’ll go the way of Russia and turn Bolshevik!
The movie’s grim tone stems from the tragedy of Europe right after a devastating war. Romanians are starving. So any chance this palace and grand hotel-set costume drama had at being a light, plucky proto-feminist romp is tossed aside for Real Romanian and Royal European History.
They go for “musty” and “overly-impressed-with-inbreds” in other words. The film’s great virtue is in reminding us of just how tiny this “world” was, with everybody related through Queen Victoria, and merely invoking Victoria’s name is enough to make the Brits and to a lesser degree everybody else quake in their presence.
And Marie’s family problems, disappointing sons whose loyalty is to title, wealth and privilege and not their parents’ adoptive country, a need to “marry off” the daughters on this Paris trip, remind us that family is family and always messy.
The performances are dry and a bit starchy, with Lupu occasionally achieving the outskirts of “inspiring” as the Queen. The dialogue is middle school Romanian history text stiff.
Handsomely staged, costumed and filmed, “Queen Marie” is more valuable as history, even with its blue blood biases, than as entertainment. But while Romanians may get more from it than outsiders, one has to hope they don’t see this as any representation of “The Good Ol’Days,” when even a foreigner from the “right family” was more entitled to represent your country than anybody produced by a meritocracy.
MPA Rating: unrated, nudity in one explicit sex scene.
Cast: Roxana Lupu, Daniel Plier, Richard Elfyn, Patrick Drury, Caroline Loncq, Ronald Chenery, Adrian Titieni, Anghel Damian and Nicholas Boulton
Credits: Directed by Alexis Sweet Cahill and Brigitte Drodtloff, script by Alexis Sweet Cahill, Brigitte Drodtloff, Gabi Antal, Ioana Manea and Maria-Denise Teodoru. A Samuel Goldwyn release.
Running time: 1:50