Since this review involves the 1964 version of “Angelique,” and not this year’s remake, I’ll use the full 1964 title, which is “Angélique, Marquise des Anges.” The title means “marquise of the angels,” although the film never fully explains the meaning in this version. The ending alludes to further adventures where she fully embraces the identity; and 4 other movies also starring the beautiful Michèle Mercier followed this film. The color film, directed by Bernard Borderie, is a co-production involving French, German and Italian studios.
In the 1650’s, Angélique begins the movie as a feisty but curious virgin who takes a liking to a peasant boy named Nicolas (Giuliano Gemma). While they flirt near a pond, Angélique’s blouse gets wet and becomes transparent. This excites Nicolas, who lunges at her. But then, a band of rebels massacres a village outside the fortress walls. The rebels attack the fortress, but get routed by a cavalry charge. Peace restored, Angélique’s father sends her off to get refinement at a fancy count’s estate, but the denizens of the count’s court only mock and abuse her. She rebels, but the Count sends her off to a convent for 5 years as punishment.
Thankfully, the film doesn’t explore Angélique’s years at the convent; after 4 years, her father summons her back and compels her to marry Marquis Jeoffrey de Peyrac (Robert Hossein), an older man described as “hideous.” This marks a major turning point in the story, since Jeoffrey practices alchemy, and can turn lead into gold. His practices anger the Church, who accuse him of witchcraft, and the king, who becomes jealous of his “powers.” The film does a nice job of avoiding special effects; Jeoffrey doesn’t pull any rabbits out of his hat or use pyrotechnics. He’s just good at metalworking.
At Jeoffrey’s estate, Angélique stumbles onto a plot to kill King Louis XIV’s brother, and takes passive yet heroic action to stop it. She doesn’t take to the Marquis right away, but he doesn’t force himself on her. She lives unhappily in luxurious surroundings until attacks upon her husband by the Church and the Kingdom force her to look at him in a completely different light. When he finally gets arrested and charged with witchcraft, Angélique pulls out every stop to get him released. This puts her in grave danger, not to mention that several men in the film try to rape her; but she narrowly misses death or imprisonment. Director Borderie balances all these episodes so that the film moves at an effective pace.
A long trial scene explains all the plot complications but reveals what a nasty court King Louis presided over. The rebels make their appearance again near the end of the film, promising new story lines for the sequel. I expect the 2013 film to leave room for sequels as well. The source books consisted of 13 volumes, which is a lot of adventures and several films for the story of Angélique.