Joan of Arc was the illiterate peasant girl who, in the 15th
century, believed that God told her how to defeat the all-conquering
English army and restore Charles II to the throne. She united the
dishevelled French army and routed the English at the siege of
Orleans. But later she was denounced as a witch and burnt at the
stake. Some five hundred years later she was canonised by the
Vatican, although her life is still the subject of much speculation
It's a story that has been told on screen many times before,
most recently in the earnest television miniseries, starring Leelee
Sobieski and Peter O'Toole. However French director Luc Besson (La
Femme Nikita, The Professional, etc) gives this familiar story a
suitably epic treatment in this bold and bloody retelling of the
legend. Besson has spared little expense in bringing the story to the
screen. The costumes, the lavish production design, and the authentic
looking Czech locations all bring the era to life beautifully.
Thierry Arbogast's cinematography is also superb.
Although visually quite splendid, the initial sequences, which
deal with Joan's early visions, are a little clumsily handled.
However, Besson soon comes into his own with his assured direction of
the film's bloody and brutal battle sequences. With Braveheart, Mel
Gibson established a new standard for medieval battle scenes. Besson
enthusiastically follows that example with his spectacular centre
piece, the bloody siege of Orleans, which occupies much of the film's
150 minutes. Besson efficiently captures the carnage and confusion of
battle, and he takes his cameras right into the thick of the
But he also explores in some detail the fascinating politics
of church and state that ultimately decided Joan's fate. Having
decided that she had outlived her usefulness, they both conspired to
rid themselves of the troublesome and charismatic Joan.
Milla Jovovich (The Fifth Element, etc) is superb as the
complex Joan, and she handles both the physical elements and the more
cerebral and emotional elements of the role effectively. She is
especially good in portraying the difficulty Joan had in reconciling
her bloody actions as a fierce warrior with her deep religious
convictions. Faye Dunaway is also great as Charles II's scheming
mother-in-law, who was also obviously the power behind the French
throne. Dustin Hoffman makes the most of a small role as Joan's
conscience, while John Malkovich makes a nicely pragmatic Charles II.
Andrew Birkin's script often smacks of trite American
cliches and rather 20th century sounding dialogue. While this may
offend the purists, it is nonetheless a wonderfully effective way of
bringing this 500 year old legend alive and making Joan's struggle
seem relevant for contemporary audiences.
Copyright © 2000 Greg King