The last installment of the Angélique saga is one of the better ones — good news for anyone diving into the entire five-film series. Set mainly in Morocco, where the abducted Angélique (Michèle Mercier) seems doomed to live as an unwilling member of the Sultan’s harem, the film once again relegates once-proud Angélique to the status of damsel-in-distress, but at least there are interesting goings-on elsewhere, as her husband Joffrey de Peyrac (Robert Hossein) — better known these days as the dread pirate Rescatore — leaves a trail of blood behind him as he struggles to discover her whereabouts. There’s some solid pirate action, a daring prison break, and a nighttime escape from the Sultan’s castle, and if Angélique’s has been somewhat subdued, at least she’s still spirited. Much is made of religious conflict, with Angélique refusing to renounce her faith to satisfy her captors, and earning the allegiance of a strapping blond Christian that the Sultan never quite decides to execute. The standout character this time around is Osman Ferradji (Jean-Claude Pascal), the Moroccan king’s right-hand man who is tasked, finally and unsuccessfully, with the taming of Angélique. Unsatisfying as the end of an epic, but a decent enough adventure yarn in its own right.
An Angélique pirate movie sounds like great, trashy fun, but Untamable Angélique is nowhere near as imaginative as Angélique and the King, and given Angelique’s status in earlier films as a beautiful, strong-willed female it’s dispiriting to see her thrown to the wolves in this fourth installment of the five-film series. The title is translated from the French Indomptable Angélique, partly because “indomitable” is roughly as unfamiliar to U.S. audiences as, well, “Synecdoche,” but also because “untamable” suggests an altogether more torrid affair. Indeed, this is arguably the raciest film in the series — not only does star Michèle Mercier offer more peek-a-boo nudity, but this film’s events are almost completely outside the control of poor Angélique, who is captured and raped by pirates, tortured by a pack of angry strays, stripped naked for sale at a slave auction, and eventually abducted again. Not only is Angélique a frustratingly passive character, but the film ends on an abrupt cliffhanger that promises more misery to come. By far the shortest Angélique film, Untamable Angélique is sufficiently energetic and compulsively watchable — the sea-faring scenes, including some ship-to-ship combat, are intriguing enough — but it’s odd to see how abruptly this popular series exhausted its emotional capital.
Angélique and the King
Angélique (Michèle Mercier) roars back to life in this lively third installment in the five-film series, which sees her becoming a crucial instrument in the affairs of Louis XIV, and thus the subject of much palace intrigue. When Angelique accepts a diplomatic assignment to the Persian ambassador Bachtiary-Bey (Sami Frey), she’s rewarded with Peyrac’s estate — now she has two manors — but ends up as a kind of political prisoner, the captive of Bachtiary-Bey, who intends to rape and perhaps murder her. Rescued in the nick of time (by a Hungarian prince!), she returns to the king’s court, where she’s regarded with dismay by the king’s wife and actively scorned by the king’s current mistress, who senses impending obsolescence. The second half of the film is the most brashly inventive part of the series so far, including one recurring character’s death, another’s return from the grave, multiple attempts on Angélique’s life, and even a black mass.
This is a real comedown after the first film in the series, which ended with Angelique de Peyrac enduring an abrupt fall from grace and apparently aligning herself with the Parisian underworld, bent on vengeance. Wonderful Angélique, however, turns out to be a much more straightforward romantic melodrama, showing Angelique as a status-driven career woman and serial monogamist who pulls herself out of poverty as an entrepreneurial restaurateur and hitches herself to royalty by marrying her cousin, Philippe de Plessis-Bellieres (Claude Giraud). She starts the film in thrall to her old sweetheart Nicolas (Giuliano Gemma), eventually falls for the anti-authoritatarian provocateur known as the “dirty poet” (Jean-Louis Trintignant) — the kind of charming rogue who introduces himself by groping your breasts while you sleep — and finally settles for Philippe. There’s a callback to the assassination plot from the first film, but the storyline feels much more middle-of-the-road-historical-romance this time around and the sense of rollicking, slightly bawdy fun has been diminished. Angélique’s wardrobe is still an enticingly fabulous manifestation of costume drama and the whole thing is lovely to look at but somehow the woman herself seems to have lost a stake in the story as appealingly fierce edge of Michéle Mercier’s performance has been dulled. A disappointment.
Angélique, Marquise of the Angels58/100
While the standard-bearers of the nouvelle vague were off making stuff like The Soft Skin, Contempt, and Muriel, le cinema du papa was cranking right along with this historical potboiler, a romance about the lavish and dangerous love shared between Angélique (Michèle Mercier), the daughter of a poor nobleman living in the French countryside, and Joffrey de Peyrac (Robert Hossein), a wealthy count with a reputation for deviltry who essentially buys her hand in marriage. Peyrac takes Angelique away from the common people she loves — and from Nicolas (Giuliano Gemma), the strapping young fieldhand who first took her fancy — but wins her over by declining to force himself on her. Instead, the cold, cold cockles of her heart are thawed when the limping, scarred Peyrac manages to perforate the chest of a rival in a swordfight. By contemporary standards, this is hilarious stuff — yet somehow it’s still stirring, swooning through its melodramatic paces with the speed and slippery, unstoppable heft of the proverbial greased pig. Think of a Francophone cross between Gone With the Wind and Barbarella.