During the Nouvelle Vague the French filmmakers of Cahier Du Cinema rebelled against what they were seeing from their indigenous cinema. Costume dramas directed by journeymen directors with no real applicable identity to their work were the standard. Since the French New Wave France has become known, almost to a point of stereotype, as the place where artistic expression is the be all and end all in film. On the face of it, Maiwenn’s most recent directorial effort Jeanne Du Barry would’ve been the prime candidate for someone like Truffaut tear apart from the seams for being too blasé.  

Jeanne Du Barry deals with pre-revolution France, a high-class courtesan (played by Maïwenn herself) becomes the mistress and eventually the arm candy of King Louis the XV (comeback kid Johnny Depp in his first major role since… yeno). The story focuses mostly on Jeanne’s rise from her poverty-stricken beginnings to her relationship with the king within the walls of Versailles. Jeanne rejects the high society cultural norms and girl bosses (1700’s style) her way to the top. 

The first thing I want to get out of the way is that this movie looks stunning. Visually it leans a lot on the cinematography, look and style, of Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (1975). Scenes lit by candlelight, wide frames that look like an Enlightenment painting and the odd zoom that shows the scale and wonder of the world Jeanne encapsulates. What helps with that is the sheer amount of effort put into the costumes and locations. Versailles is the real Versailles and if it is a set the work done by the production design and set decor teams make it match so well, I didn’t notice. The hair makeup is astounding too, I can’t praise enough the work put in here it really does impressively create a time capsule of what it looked like to be in the French aristocracy.  

That goes for the performances too. Everyone is well cast for the plot. The snooty boot lickers act accordingly, the Kings daughters are spoiled classists and there’s some touches of comedy to be had in the how these people act. Depp is the outlier, his French sticks out like a sore thumb which is odd since he’s the king. There are some laughable moments when he’s at his worst but it’s a pretty neutral performance. Maïwenn does play Jeanne too saintly though. The woman reached the top echelons of French society, she had to have some biases and although she does have struggles nothing derails her goals enough to cause tension in the story.  

The ending of the film states the real Jeanne was considered a class traitor by the revolution and was guillotined for it, where was that? There’s a gap of social conscience that the film needs. Jeanne is presented as a feminist and anti-racist (even though she’s literally gifted a black slave in the film) but it all rings hollow as it doesn’t take that step into real commentary or criticism of the times or the times the film is being made in. There’s no big societal statement in the themes, it stays put as a costume drama with some spiciness added. Jeanne doesn’t challenge any real authority; she’s sleeping with the king for god’s sake.  

Now you could say that it’s the intention of the filmmakers and there’s a debate to be had on the role of the artist and their views. I can’t be bothered doing that here, so I’ll just say that Maïwenn missed the mark with a slow, clichéd plot that contains enough spectacle and abundance of detail so rich it’ll give you gout. It’s the conservative side of the 18th century political costume dramas spectrum with The Favourite (2018) being on the opposite end. You can choose which of those you prefer yourself.  

Rating: 3.5/5

  • Directed by: Maïwenn
  • Written by: Maïwenn, Teddy Lussi-Modeste, and Nicolas Livecchi
  • Starring: Maïwenn and Johnny Depp
  • Runtime: 1hr 57min
  • Budget: $22,400,000 (est.)
  • Released: May 2nd, 2024 (US) | April 19th, 2024 (UK & IE)

Review by Marcus Rochford.

Jeanne Du Barry Trailer