The Affair of the Necklace (2001)





Director:    Charles Shyer.

Starring:    Hilary Swank (Comtesse Jeanne De La Motte-Valois), Simon Baker (Retaux De Villete), Adrien Brody (Count Nicolas De La Motte), Jonathan Pryce (Cardinal De Rohan), Christopher Walken (Count Cagliostro), Joely Richardson (Marie Antoinette), Brian Cox (Baron De Breteuil).

Scandal sears Marie Antoinette of France. 




Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

The narrator Barron De Breteuil says:  "Napoleon wrote that military blunders and domestic catastrophes fanned the flames of the French Revolution, but the cu-de-gras was a curious palace scandal,  involving a woman of nobility denied, a member of the royal family and the most magnificent string of jewels in all of Europe.  This notorious intrigue came to be known as the Affair of the Necklace."

Paris 1786.  Comtesse Jeanne De La Moote-Valois has been tried for the crimes of fraud and thievery.  She is asked if she wants to say anything.  She does.  Jeanne says:  "If I reached for anything that shone brilliantly, it was the vision of a home denied me and a sense of peace I have never known.  In the eyes of God and the world I wanted my life to be as it should have been." 

Flashback.  1767.  The narrator says he knew of the Valois family many years ago.  Five generations ago a member of the Valois family was king.  But the family is best known for Jeanne De La Motte-Valois.  Her father Darnell was a reformist, which put him in opposition to the king.  His very name came to be connected with the resistance in France. 

One day the king's soldiers ride into the Valois estate.  The estate house is set on fire and Daniell is brutally beaten and killed.    In the winter Jeanne loses her mother from a heart attack.  This left Jeanne an orphan.  Baron De Breteuil says that many years later his path would cross Jeanne's path. 

The palace the Le Petit Trianon. Palace of Versailles, 1784  Jeanne grew up fast and now matured she was sure the only person who could help her would be the queen Marie Antoinette.  The queen sings for a small audience.  She gets a nice round of applause.  In the background is Jeanne.  A handsome gigolo, Retaux De Villete, notices Jeanne and asks who is she.  His middle-aged female companion tells him that she is married, but it was a marriage of convenience.  The husband can and does do whatever he pleases.  Retaux comments:  "The poor dear." 

After the singing, the audience greets the queen.  Retaux tries to get close to Jeanne, but before he reaches her, Jeanne takes out a petition and pretends to faint landing right in the way of the queen, who quite simply just steps around her.  Retaux slaps her face slightly to "revive" her.  Baron De Breteuil tells her that he has already instructed her to keep away from Her Majesty.  Jeanne persists so the baron tells her:  "Her Majesty does not care to know you."  Jeanne says she will have to hear that remark from the queen's own lips. 

Accompanying Retaux, as Jeanne passes in a carriage through the streets, she sees a singer dressed up to look like the queen and singing super-critical remarks of the Queen of France.  Retaux asks her what was her petition about?  She shows him the petition which is a family tree.  Retaux asks Jeanne if this has been authenticated, but Jeanne has to tell him that the king's minister of titles refuses to see her.  She says the royal family took her father's estate and she is petitioning for its return.  She is, however, very sure that as soon as the queen learns about the injustice, she will remedy it.  Retaux laughs at Jeanne's naïveté.  Jeanne gets out of the carriage at her place, calls Retaux a common gigolo and shuts the door in his face.

Retaux goes in after Jeanne.  He follows her up the steps and to the door of her bedroom.  Jeanne takes out a small gun, holds it to the throat of Retaux and pushes him back onto a railing, almost knocking it and Retaux to the floor below.  She tells him he better find some way quick to be of use to her.  He says he can get her insider information from the court.  Jeanne puts the gun down and goes into her room.  And, once again, she closes the door in the young man's face. 

Around this time two jewelers approach the queen trying to get her to purchase their very expensive necklace.  Jeanne is just not interested in buying  the huge necklace, and especially so, since originally it was designed to be sold to Madame du Barry (the mistress of her husband's grandfather the then king).   The necklace contains 2,800 diamond carats.  The jewelers say, as jewelers to the royal family, if they have to seek buyers elsewhere, it will have a devastating effect on their reputations.  Still Marie refuses the necklace.  The two jewelers leave.  After they are gone Marie and a woman with her simply roar with laughter about the whole affair.   

Retaux goes with Jeanne to see the titles administrator.  She doesn't think he will see her, but Retaux tells her that the official will see Jeanne because his aunt is an "acquaintance" of his.  Jeanne gets in, but the administrator tells her that her father was always stirring up parliament.  And her father was a "treacherous liar".  She pleads with him, but he sums it up this way:  "This royal office will not grant your petition. It never will."

Out boating on a lake, Retaux tells Jeanne that she needs to get a rich benefactor and she needs to update her style of clothing.  He suggests that Cardinal Louis de Rohan would be a good benefactor.  They watch as the queen refuses to take communion from Rohan.  Marie doesn't like him because on a pilgrimage, the cardinal bedded half the Austrian court.  And the man claimed that her mother had begged her turn with the cardinal.  Rohan is still trying to heal the rift because he wants one day to become prime minister and right now Marie blocks his way. 

Retaux and Jeanne walkover to a young woman named Colleen who is a servant to Her Majesty.  The young woman hands them some private stationary of Marie Antoinette.  Now they can really get their con game going. 

The Rohan chateau at Saverne.  Rohan and his guests are doing some pheasant shooting.  He aims, he sees Jeanne on the side lines, fires his rifle and misses the shot.  He goes over to Jeanne to say that he missed his shot because she distracted him. 

Jeanne shows the cardinal some fake documents, supposedly letters from the queen to her.  She tells the cardinal that she has an intuitive feeling that the cold relationship between the queen and the cardinal may be thawing.   The cardinal declines her offer to be an intermediary because he thinks she is most likely to be a fraud.  There are so many these days.  Jeanne says she has upset him.  What the cardinal really wants from Jeanne is oral sex.  She is about to become an unwilling participant in his desire, but he sees the fancy handkerchief with the initials M. A. on them that Jeanne holds in her hand and he stops.  Jeanne tells him that she got the handkerchief from the queen's chambers.  This changes the cardinal's mind and he says there is a way to verify her claim. 

The cardinal has under his patronage a grand master of the Illuminati, the German mystic elite.  This man, Count Cagliostro, is well-known for his accurate visions and prognostications.  With Jeanne present, the count comes into a room with a long table at which all the seats are filled.  The count starts in on Jeanne and brings up some very painful memories for her.  She gets up and quietly leaves the table and the room. 

The queen speaks with Breteuil about why do the people of France hate her so?  Breteuil responds that she didn't do anything to justify this mistreatment of her.  She is just a symbol they use at which to target their anger. 

Jeanne goes in to see the mystical count.  He tells her flat out that if she wants his cooperation, she will have to give him some of the goodies she will get from the cardinal.  He also warns her that he can bring serious harm to Jeanne if he works his wiles.  Jeanne agrees to give him some of the reward she gets from working with the cardinal. 

The cardinal and the count are busy getting high off smoking drugs, surrounded by loose women.  Jeanne comes to see him and the cardinal's pleasure is disturbed.  Jeanne brings Rohan another forged letter from the queen that calls for mutual reconciliation, but only after an apology from Rohan.  At first, the cardinal says a Rohan has never apologized.  But after more thought, he decides to acquiesce to the wishes of the queen.  And now he will give Jeanne a note of credit of 5,000 gold louis.  Jeanne asks for 20,000 gold louis.  The cardinal is not happy about this and warns her against any type of attempt at extortion with him.  The niece of his captain of the guard tried it and her uncle slit her open from her genitalia to her chin.  She, in turn, warns the cardinal that she can easily end this correspondence with the queen.  The cardinal backs off her. 

There are more letters that go back and forth between the cardinal and the queen. Rohan expresses a wish that he could secretly meet with the queen.  Meanwhile, the fierceness of the attacks on Marie increase among the less fortunate.  The queen responds by staying inside the Versailles palace more.

Retaux and Jeanne finally go to bed with each other.  They are, however, interrupted by the arrival of Jeanne's husband, Nicholas.  The husband tells them that he heard that she had a run of good fortune and he wanted to see this for himself.  Jeanne tells her husband to go back to his whore.  Nicholas ignores this.  He is more interesting in a sword duel with Retaux.  He is about to run Retaux through with a sword, but the maid shoots Nicholas in the rear end with Jeanne's pistol. 

Monsieur Bassenge comes to speak with Jeanne about the huge necklace.  He tells her he has learned that Jeanne has some influence on the queen.  He shows Retaux and Jeanne the diamond necklace and offers her a handsome reward if she can get the queen to buy the necklace.  The interest he and his partner have to pay on the necklace alone is enough to bankrupt them. 

Alone with Retaux, she tells him that the jewelers wants the queen to buy the necklace;  Rohan wants the queen's favor so he can become prime minister; but what Rohan and the jewelers don't know is that the queen "secretly desires" the necklace.  The latter is not true, but all Jeanne has to do is convince the two parties involved that the queen will take the necklace.  So they forge another letter from the queen to Rohan saying that she wants the jewelry but it must come through to her via her agent Jeanne. 

Rohan asks Jeanne why should the queen want so much secrecy involved in the transaction?  Jeanne says it's because the people already call her extravagant and she doesn't want the public to ever find out about it.  The ambitious lady tells Rohan that this sweetener will seal the deal for him to become prime minister.  The count tells the cardinal to continue the course.  But the cardinal won't continue, unless he can get a face to face meeting with the queen herself.  

Jeanne walks with Retaux and tells him that with the necklace she has a chance to get her old home back.  Then she sees the actress that plays the queen in public performances.  She gets the idea of having the cardinal meet this imposter and make him believe that he is speaking to the queen.  Then Rohan can be convinced to be the guarantor of the necklace exchange. Retaux has his doubts, but Jeanne says to avoid the affair from being turned into a scandal, the cardinal will pay off the jewelers. 

At night Jeanne asks her husband Nicholas if he would join them in the necklace affair?  He gladly joins in. 

Nicholas talks with the actress to get her cooperation in the affair.  Now the trap is set. 

At night, Jeanne escorts Rohan into the Grove of Venus on the palace grounds.  Jeanne tells him to wait in a certain spot for the queen to make an appearance.  Wait for her to check to see if the coast is clear, then she will signal the cardinal to come to her.  The actress makes her appearance to Rohan.  She hands him a rose and says:  "Forgiveness is a rose without thorns."   Rohan bows down to the queen and talks about the time he met her when she first came to France as a girl of 14. 

Retaux rushes up to Jeanne and Nicholas, warning them that someone else is in the garden.  Jeanne runs to tell Rohan that they must go now.  The palace guard is alerted that there is someone in the garden.  The guards start rushing into the garden.  Jeanne and Rohan get away in their carriage and Nicholas and the imposter get away in another carriage.  Retaux has to dive into a pond where he hides under the water until the guard has passed.  As the carriages continue to roll, Rohan tells Jeanne that she can deny it, but he knows that the queen is in love with him.  Meanwhile, Nicholas takes this opportunity to have sex with the queen imposter.  He rips open the front of her blouse (no nudity). 

The necklace is delivered to Rohan.  Later, Rohan asks the mystical count if this affair is worth the risk?   The mystic approves the transaction.

The next evening, Rohan is at Jeanne's place.  There Retaux plays the part of a servant of the queen and takes the huge necklace from Rohan.  Retaux then quickly leaves in a carriage.  Later Jeanne wears the necklace around her neck.  Soon enough, Jeanne has the entire necklace broken into smaller parts to be sold to others.  The money she gets allows her to buy her old Valois mansion house.  She runs into the house to look around and savors the good memories with her family. 

Rohan writes to Jeanne complaining about not having seen her for weeks.  He says this has put him ill at east.  The cardinal demands to hear from her with an appraisal of Her Majesty's current disposition.  Meanwhile, Jeanne holds a party in the Valois mansion.  The cardinal keeps himself entertained with his many liaisons.  He rips open the blouse of a young brunette (brief  partial nudity). 

The jeweler Bohmer gives a present of appreciation to the queen.  The queen is confused about this strange gift, because she did not buy the necklace from the jewelers.  She says:  "Monsieur Bohmer has gone quite mad."

A policeman stops Nicholas in the street saying that some jewelers have been telling him that Nicholas has been selling diamonds.  He wants Nicholas to show him his sales permit.  Nicholas makes a run for it.  He is becoming surrounded by policemen, so he jumps into the river.   He returns to see Jeanne and Retaux.  Jeanne tells him not to sell any more diamonds in Paris. 

Jeanne now switches to blackmailing Rohan.  She writes a letter to Bohmer about the affair of the necklace being a fraudulent one.  Bohmer immediately gets in his coach to race over to see Cardinal Rohan.  His way, however, is blocked by the carriage of Breteuil.  Breteuil tells Bohmer that he has been acting very peculiarly of late and he wants to know more.

The Feast of the Assumption.  The king and queen have summoned Rohan to the palace.  At the palace, Breteuil comes into the room where Rohan is waiting.  Behind Breteuil come the king and queen and they don't appear at all happy.  Breteuil got Bohmer to tell all he knew about the affair of the necklace and now they use a copy of his statement to confront Rohan.  The king accuses the cardinal of committing fraud for his own personal gain.  Rohan finally realizes that Jeanne has used him as a confederate in a fraudulent transaction.  He is told to leave the chamber.  Rohan says that it was the countess that did this, not he. 

As Rohan is leaving the palace, he is placed under arrest.  The news of the affair of the necklace is now a full blown scandal with the story appearing in the newspapers. It becomes the talk of all of France.  Nicholas quickly leaves France for Austria.  Retaux virtually begs Jeanne to run away with him, but she refuses saying that it would hurt the Valois name.  She tells him to save himself.  He has to ride off without her.

Breteuil comes to the Valois mansion and arrests Jeanne. 

The blame for the affair of the necklace falls mainly on Marie Antoinette.  People in the streets call her a thief. 

Marie wants the case tried openly in parliament.  Breteuil advises her that this is not wise.  If the cardinal is acquitted, all the blame will fall on the queen.  Let her husband decide the matter quickly and be done with it.  Marie says firmly:  "Public vindication, house minister.  I will accept nothing less." 

The mystical count is arrested. 

Back to the present.  May 22, 1786.  The trail of Jean, Rohan and Cagliostro continues.  Breteuil brings to court the woman who posed as the queen to deceive the cardinal.  Rohan confirms the identity of the queen imposter.  Now Breteuil tells Jeanne in court that they found the imposter because they caught Retaux at the Italian border. 

Jeanne goes to see Retaux in prison.  He has been badly beaten.  He tells Jeanne that Nicholas made it to Austria.  He asks Jeanne to forgive him.  She tells him that she loves him. 

Breteuil and the queen come to see Jeanne in prison.  They want her to make a confession that will implicate the cardinal in all this.  Jeanne says she will not do this. The queen wants to know what she ever did to Jeanne to make her create such chaos?   Jeanne replies:  "You ignored me.  To offer a word of advice would have cost you but a few spent breaths and it would have meant the world to me."  The queen turns to leave, but Jeanne makes one last comment:  "Your Majesty.  I did not set out to harm you."

The mystic is acquitted by the court.  Retaux is found guilty and banished from the kingdom of France.    Rohan is acquitted of all charges and is considered completely exonerated.  Jeanne's verdict will not be read at this time.  Marie Antoinette is furious with the judges.  She takes it too personally, saying that they did so just to cause her anguish.  The people felt confirmed in their opinions that the queen is guilty of greed, excess and indifference. 

In private Jeanne learns that she has been found guilty of all charges.  Jeanne is publicly whipped with a cane.  She is then branded with a V just above her right breast.  The V was for voleur, used for the mark of a thief.

The former queen of France is taken to the scaffolding and she is beheaded by  use of the guillotine

Jeanne was placed in a woman's prison where the conditions were horrible for a period of two years.  She escaped from prison and went to England. In England she published her memoirs.   

"The Affair of the Necklace shattered the fragile credibility of the French Monarchy.  The trial was a rallying point for the Revolution which followed."

"Shortly after the verdicts, Cardinal Rohan was stripped of all titles by Louis XVI.  He was exiled to the Abbey of Chaise-Dieu where piety continued to elude him for the rest of his days.  Count Cagliostro was later found guilty of sorcery during the Italian Inquisition.  He proclaimed that he would live longer than the walls of his prison could remain standing.  He did not.  Nicholas de la Motte returned to Paris after the Revolution.  He made a living extorting money from the Rohan family . . . to not write his memoirs.  Retaux de Vilette wrote and published his account of the Necklace Affair.  After the book's release he settled down with a spinster Duchess thirty-one years his senior.  He never saw Jeanne again.  "

Jeanne never returned to France.  She fell to her death from the window of a London hotel.  Reason(s) not known. 



The French people were hostile to the increasing ills of French society under King Louis XVI.  Since they could not easily criticize the king, with a vengeance they went after the queen.  All kinds of nasty rumors circulated about her character. 

The queen  remarked to one of her maids that all this slander would one day kill her. Then came a scandal called the Affair of the Necklace. She did not like the diamond necklace a jeweler made for her. She thought it was too gaudy. She persistently refused it. That stuck the jewelers with the necklace. Then a con artist named Jeanne D’Lamont found a way to steal the necklace. She led the jewelers to believe that the necklace was being bought on behalf of the queen and she would pay for it, but instead Jean took the necklace for herself. Marie was innocent, but was still blamed for the scandal. There was a stream of abuse directed toward her and her reputation declined further.

Hilary Swank (as Comtesse Jeanne De La Motte-Valois) and Simon Baker (as Retaux De Villete) were both very good in the film. Both my wife and I enjoyed the film.  It kept our interests throughout the film. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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