Daniel Auteuil, Jean Reno, Gerard Depardieu. Where are the barrel-chested Brit equivalents to these beefy action men of the French cinema? But then, Brits are all gay, aren’t we? Take this fine, roistering spectacle, a dashingly charming entertainment in which Auteuil plays a D’Artagnan-like figure, all flashing swords and teeth. The story has been made into a film five times before, and is in the tradition of the Count of Monte Cristo – revenge is its beating heart – as it follows 18th century swordsman the Chevalier de Lagardère (Auteuil) through long patient years, disguise as a hunchback, political intrigue, love from an unexpected quarter, until he finally faces down the dastardly Gonzague (played by the brilliant boulevardier Fabrice Luchini), to avenge the death of his friend years before. It’s a bit of a sprawling rococo epic, with some nice contemporary touches thrown in – the surprisingly different attitudes of the able-bodied towards the hunchback (Bossu) of the title, for instance. Plus there’s sex – this is a French film – and some of the finest swordplay since Errol Flynn finally sheathed his weapon. Swashbucklers might not be fashionable and Auteuil might not be the first person you’d call if casting one, but the French take them seriously and in the stylish hands of seasoned director Philippe de Broca such objections can easily be swatted aside.
© Steve Morrissey 1998