Being generous is hardly a negative attribute, unless one is distorting unclear history and literature to make a film. In that case, generosity is in essence an overstepping of sorts. The Man in the Iron Mask (the last part of Le Vicomte de Bragelonne ou Dix ans plus tard of the D’Artagnan Romances by Alexandre Dumas) is about honor, justice, and camaraderie. Together Athos, Porthos, and Aramis (and later d’Artagnan), better known as the Musketeers, reflect on what defines them, and seek to overthrow a contentious King Louis XIV and secretly displace him with his twin brother, Philippe, who has been confined to the Bastille wearing a mask of iron to hide his identity. The political pawning is ineffective in the novel, but the film has a much more endearing and victorious ending for Team Philippe, which disappointingly falls short in its attempts to be artistic. While little is known to confirm the identity of the historical titular character, the book and the 1998 movie present interesting albeit somewhat artistic and romantic ideas of his existence.
The plot of the 1998 Randall Wallace film (of the same name) is not humbling like the novel or faithful to it; Philippe becomes king, bringing peace and prosperity to France, and naming the Musketeers his “trusted advisors.” D’Artagnan admits to an affair with Queen Anne of Austria (revealing his parentage to Louis and Philippe and thus the reason for his loyalty to Louis and ignorance of Philippe’s existence) and is the first Musketeer to die during an ambush rather than outliving his comrades. Louis is sent to live quietly in the country and is pardoned. In the novel, Louis infiltrates the plans of the Musketeers, sending Philippe to his fate in the mask. The disbanded Musketeers all die without accomplishing their mission to better France with its “rightful” king. In terms of character development, the film gives Louis very little room to grow as a young, impulsive, ruler, meanwhile in the novel he matures into a more worldly man and worthy of being a king.
The novel is rich with fervent dialogue, unlike the comparatively bland colloquial film. The written language is luscious; it makes the word colloquial look as simple as its meaning. Although the film employs an onslaught of A-list actors, it loses some of the alchemy which makes its literary counterpart seem so alive. It is as if a piece of the charm may have been bartered to maintain the bottom line of Hollywood: ticket sales. John Malkovich (Athos), Jeremy Irons (Aramis), Gabriel Byrne (d’Artagnan), and Leonardo DiCaprio (Louis XIV/Philippe) certainly bring with them the luster of Hollywood and Broadway’s finest, but lack the sparkle that Gerard Depardieu (Pathos) brings to the screen, true to the French roots of the story. When he speaks, the film lights up and for those moments feels a bit more like a period piece than a blockbuster film, which when considering the historical value of the story is not compromising so much as it is resuscitating.
The compromise is expecting two Americans, an Englishman, a Frenchman, and an Irishman to capture the magic of the Musketeers and Louis XIV. The cast seems to have basic chemistry, but it is hard to imagine their on-screen alter egos banding together all for one, and one for all. The boyish good looks of DiCaprio do not resemble the Sun King, and it is a stretch to consider him capable of embodying the militant, selfish nature of Louis XIV. At best, his portrayal of the famous French monarch was similar to watching a spoiled bear cub struggle with a spike in its paw rather than a clear vision of a misunderstood but unrelentingly selfish man. DiCaprio as Louis XIV is a teen heart-throb playing a character; there seems to be little investment in developing the character and more evidence to assume he was hired for his looks, which is demeaning to his raw talent. Malkovich, Irons, Byrne, and Depardieu all shine brilliantly within their respective roles, but rely on DiCaprio’s character to bond them, which seems to weaken their performance since both characters played by DiCaprio are not developed well to form separate and convincing identities.
Ultimately, the film took light-years away from the direction of the novel, but remains at least enjoyable as a “guilty pleasure” film. The acting is not entirely without merit; however the proper audience is most likely teenage girls, their mothers, and the reluctant boyfriends who will see it with them. While the history of the real man behind the iron mask is blurry at best, the mystery of his livelihood was adapted brilliantly in writing, and enjoyable for the masses in film. The creative liberties taken to adapt the writing make for an engaging movie, but like many other “period” novel-to-film adaptations trying to make their impression, it misses the mark in its loyalty to the book.
Dumas, A, R Celestin, and J Zipes. The Man in the Iron Mask . New York, NY: Penguin Groups (USA), 2006. Print.
The Man in the Iron Mask. Dir. Randall Wallace. 1998. DVD