The Affair Of The Necklace

The Affair Of The Necklace

Dress-up cinema at its most absurd, The Affair Of The Necklace seems to exist only for its costumes and props. Set in the days leading up to the French Revolution, Affair supplies a bodice-heaving account of a royal scandal concerning the eponymous necklace, which, in the film's version of history, contributed mightily to the subsequent upheaval. Assembled by a pair of blustery jewelers and subsequently rejected by the fickle Marie Antoinette (Joely Richardson), the necklace is described in an intensely serious voiceover as "the most magnificent string of jewels in all of Europe." The magnificent string plays a part in a scheme devised by a down-on-her-luck countess (Hilary Swank) and a high-class gigolo (Simon Baker) to recover an estate claimed by the monarchy when Swank was young. Exploiting a debauched cardinal (Jonathan Pryce) who hopes to return to the queen's good graces, Swank poses as an intermediary between decadent church and decadent state, but her carefully orchestrated plan comes undone as it reaches the highest corridors of power. Director Charles Shyer—formerly, with Nancy Myers, one half of the writing/directing team behind the Father Of The Bride and Parent Trap remakes—does at least create an appropriate environment for his scandalous goings-on. The film has the look of a living work by the Rococo painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard, who created scenes of luxuriating nobles so infantilized by ease and excess that they looked less like humans than rosy-cheeked china dolls. Nothing else about Shyer's Classics Illustrated approach, however, suggests the slightest affinity for the material. Swank has proven her acting skills mightily elsewhere, but she appears well out of her element here: She makes her character so sweet that she seems incapable of stiffing an unresponsive waiter out of a tip, much less defrauding a nation's most powerful. (It doesn't help that the screenplay sticks her with lines like, "How skillfully you play the role, yet even you can't mask such impenetrable loneliness.") Of a talented cast that also includes Adrien Brody, Brian Cox, and Christopher Walken, only Walken, as the spooky-eyed alchemist/con-man Count Cagliostro, finds a way to spin gold out of the material, mostly because he appears to be enjoying a joke not shared by those around him. Like his character, he's most likely laughing at them, not with them.

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