Diane (1956)




Director:    David Miller

Starring:     Lana Turner (Diane de Poitiers), Pedro Armendáriz (Francis I), Roger Moore (Prince Henri), Marisa Pavan (Catherine de Medici).

Countess Diane de Breze, mistress of King Henri II,  is surrounded by key political players: Prince Henri; King Francis I; Catherine de Medici.  Unfortunately, the move place fast and loose with the real history.



Spoiler Warning:

"A story based upon the life of Diane de Poitiers, one of the most famous and romantic figures of 16th century France.  We call her by her married name, Countess de Breze, but she will always be known to history as Diane."

French soldiers on horseback come in sight of a large mansion.  The captain says he'll go alone up to the fort.  He rides to the gate and tells the gateman that he is on an urgent mission to see Count de Breze.

Inside the mansion the Countess asks the Count what's going on?  The Count tells her that the Duke of Bourbon is being tried for conspiracy to kill King Francis I.  And the Count too has to answer certain questions.  The Countess is concerned for her husband, but he tells her that he has nothing to be afraid about.  She asks then why did Charles Bourbon come here last night in secret?  The Count tells her to stop asking him questions.  The Count now leaves.  Diane tells her maid to watch the mansion, because she is going to go see the King. 

Diane gets to see the King, but he's not happy about it.  He shouts that her husband is a traitor and, therefore, she has no standing to see the King.  Diane starts to leave, but the King decides to keep her here in the palace until the treason trial is completed. 

Diane walks in the gardens.  She stops to watch two men wrestle each other.  The King and the Dauphin come over to see Diane.  The King sees his other son, Prince Henri of France, and Henri's groom standing still watching the Countess.  The King tells his son to bow to the Count.  Henri gives a half-hearted bow, which does not please the King.  Henri leaves and then the Dauphin leaves.  So the King and Diane take a walk.  He talks about the possibility of war.  Diane advises him to take his time before rushing into war, and perhaps get the Italians to help the French.  The King says that the Italian Catherine de Medici is supposed to marry the Dauphin, but he does like the idea of the Queen of France being from a line of Italian merchants.  So Diane suggests that the King let Catherine marry Prince Henri.

At night Diane attends a fancy ball in the palace. The King calls for her.  The trial of her husband is over.  Three witnesses swore that her husband was the ringleader of the conspiracy.   She pleads with the King for mercy and when she sees she's making no progress with him, she criticizes him severely saying it was the King himself was the one to set this conspiracy in motion through his corrupt dealings with the Duke of Bourbon.  The King gets even madder saying that she could be executed too.  Diane says she would willingly die, if the King would save her husband.  The King is impressed by her stand for her husband, and says he will reconsider her husband's case if she will do something for him.  Diane says she will do anything.  The King asks her:  "Have you no care for your honor?"    She says in saving her husband, she will not lose her honor.  So Francis I tells her that one day he will call on her for a favor. 

The Count is released, but he has heard some nasty rumors about what his wife had to do to save her husband.  Diane can't believe that her husband would believe that gossip, but he does. 

Later Diane all dressed in black comes to talk to the Count.  He asks her why is she dressed in mourning clothes?  She says it's traditional wear when a woman has lost her husband.  Since he does not ask her about the possible affair, she now tells him that nothing happened between her and the King.  But then a messenger from the King arrives.  The message is for Diana and it says:  "We require your presence.  It is time for fulfillment of your promise."  The Count says angrily:  "So, Madam, there is nothing between you and the King?  Nothing but a promise."   She tells her husband to hear her out, but he says he  has heard enough. 

Diane goes to speak with the King.  He tells her that Catherine de Medici will marry Prince Henri, and he wants Diane to teach Henri how to act like a gentleman, instead of like a lout.  He says Henri will trust Diane because she is not from the court.  Now Henri shows up.  He is surprised to see the Countess with his father.  Dad says that here is Henri's tutor.  The King tells Diane that her duties will begin at once.  And so starts the etiquette lessons for Henri. 

 In addition to etiquette lessons, there are also lessons in the Italian language and in fencing and dancing.  The last lesson is to rehearse the marriage ceremony.  Diane plays the part of Catherine. 

Later, Henri tells Diane that he really doesn't want to marry Catherine.  Henri declares his love for Diane and he wants her to do the same.  She says she cannot do the same and leaves. 

Diane packs up her bags.  The King comes in and asks her about her promise to him?  He says Henri will not get married to Catherine, if Diane leaves.  So the King now commands Diane to stay on as Henri's tutor. 

In Italy Diane doesn't want to watch the wedding procession being held in the streets.  She finally gives in to her servants' entreaties and comes to the window for a good look at Henri and Catherine.  Henri sees Diane at the second floor window and she sees him.  Then she returns back to the center of the room.  Diane has go get ready for the welcome ceremony for the bride.  The Italians notice how upset Diane is over the marriage and they begin to watch her and Prince Henri closely. 

The man known as Gondi serves as advisor to Catherine.  He now tells Catherine that the Countess de Breze that she met today is the mistress of Prince Henri.

Catherine sends for Diane.  The new wife wants to feel out what kind of woman this Diane is.  She asks her if Diane has heard some terrible tales of the Medici family?  Diane says yes she has, but she has also heard some foolish gossip too.  Gondi arrives and breaks up the meeting.  After Diane is gone, he tells Catherine that he sees Catherine didn't follow his advice and stay away from Diane.  But now Diane will be suspicious of Catherine's motivations.  Catherine says she thinks that Diane is innocent of Gondi's charges.  Gondi insists that he is right and Catherine tells him to prove it.  Gondi says he will. 

Gondi puts Diane in the room next to Catherine's room saying that this shows Diane how much Catherine favors her.  He also shows her a portrait of Diana, the goddess of the hunt, just freshly painted for Diane.

Gondi takes Catherine to a place behind the portrait of Diana.  There is a hole in the painting where Catherine can look into Diane's room.  Today Henri is in the room by himself.  Then Diane comes back into her room.  Henri asks her why has she been avoiding him?  And he wants her to tell him that she doesn't love him.  She says she will always love Henri, but to no purpose.  Princess Catherine has offered Diane her friendship and Diane will not betray her trust.  The Prince, however, is very forceful with Diane and will not give her up.  He grabs her and kisses her.  Then he kisses her again and Diane melts in his arms. 

Catherine is very upset and wishes she hadn't seen and heard what she actually saw and heard.  She tells Gondi that there must be a way in which she can win Henri over from Diane. 

Catherine asks the wise man Ruggieri about her future.  He says she will have three sons who all will be kings.  Through her sons she shall rule France.  Also there is in Henri's horoscope but one danger:  he must beware of a wild boar.  What Ruggieri did not tell Catherine is that Count Michel Montgomery, Henri's groom, will kill the King of France. 

Henri and Montgomery go on a hunt with Diane and many others.   A deer jumps into the river to get away from the dogs.  Someone shoots an arrow into the deer.  Henri tells everyone to cross the river by using the bridge.  They leave.  Henri and Montgomery jump in the river and swim across to the other side.  They see movement in some bushes and Henri rushes to see if it's the wounded deer.  It isn't a deer, but a wild boar.  He charges Henri and, though Henri knifes the wild boar, the boar runs him over.  Montgomery is able to kill the wounded boar with his knife. 

Montgomery picks up Henri's body and takes him to a house.  Later, Catherine is brought out to the house.  There she finds Diane tending to the Prince.  Catherine's doctor looks over the care of Henri.  Catherine tells Diane to leave the house.  Diane leaves. 

Diane returns to the palace.  When she comes into the palace she sees a lot soldiers preparing for battle.  She asks what's this about and is told that the Duke of Bourbon has raised an army and these men aim to fight the Duke.  King Francis I is going too.  He sees Diane and asks her to speak to a messenger and to speak pleasantly to the fellow. 

Diane goes into a room and sees her husband standing there.  It seems that the King and the Count are friends now.  The King leaves and the Count says he talked to the King and now knows that he misjudged Diane most cruelly.  He asks for her pardon and she gives it.  He says he will be away with the army and wants to know if Diane will return to their mansion?  Diane says she will, but her husband most know this:  she has changed over the six months they have been apart. 

Diane writes a letter to Henri saying that her duties now are at home with her husband.  She also writes that Henri must not try to see her.  She then asks him to wear a ring she has sent him as a sign that their love might last as long as the two live. 

Catherine comes in to speak with Henri. Henri is still recuperating from the wild boar wound and he wants to join the army on the battlefield.  Catherine says that Henri is still too weak from the wound.  Their talk is interrupted by the arrival of Henri's father.  He rushes down the steps to see his father. 

The King says that it snowed so thickly in Italy that they did not know that Bourbon's cavalry was right on top of them.   The King won the battle but at a heavy price.  500 of his best knights died in the battle.  Bourbon was killed in battle.  Diane's husband was mortally wounded in combat.  The King himself is wounded. 

King Francis I dies in 1547.  The King calls Diane to the palace.  She's expecting to see Henri's brother as King, and she is shocked when it's Henri who is King.  Henri tells her that his brother is dead.  He then tells Diane that his brother was poisoned.  The Italian cup-bearer has confessed to the crime. Henri adds that he suspects that Catherine was behind the poisoning.  He tells Diane that once she made him a Prince, and now she must make him a king  --  King Henry II.

The cup-bearer is put on trial.  He says he poisoned the king and he acted alone.  So they decide to stretch the man out until he confesses who put the assassin  up to the deed.  Catherine goes down to get a close look at the man under torture, but then faints.  She is removed to her room.  The King now commands that the men proceed with the confession through torture. 

Gondi talks in private with Catherine.  He tells her that the cup-bearer confessed to being bribed to kill Henri's brother.  Gondi adds that for all he knows Catherine's uncles could have bribed the man.  That way the Medici could rule France from Italy.  The King comes in and sends Gondi away.  He tells Christine that that the cup-bearer cleared her name, but he is not happy about that.  Christine says that she is pregnant with Henri's child, but Henri is not happy to hear that either.  He leaves the room and Catherine starts crying. 

Seven years had passed.  The first of Ruggieri's prophecies had come true.  Catherine had become the mother of princes. 

The royal family sits for a family portrait.  She has three boys, all to be future kings.  The two older boys call Diane "Auntie Diane".  She arrives in her carriage and Henri and the two boys rush outside to see her.  Catherine is not happy.  She says that Diane is the mistress of all of France.  She dreams of Diane dying a painful death from poisoning.  And now Henri is allying himself with the the House of Savoy, sworn enemies of the Medici. 

A jousting tournament will be held.  Ridolfi, under orders from the Medici family, has been given the task of killing the King in the tournament.  Gondi is in on the assassination plot. 

The tournament begins, but Ridolfi is defeated by Montgomery.  That stops the assassination attempt.  And now Montgomery will face off with the King.  The competition results in both men still on their horses.  So they will do it again.  This time Montgomery decides to use the Italian pole with the hard covering over the tip that was designed to kill the King.  Of course, Montgomery doesn't know this.  In the contest the hard tip goes through the helmet of the King.  It doesn't look good for Henri.  Now Catherine orders the arrest of Diane. 

The King is brought in on a stretcher.  He wants to be taken to the Countess first.  Catherine doesn't like the idea, but she has to yield to the King. 

The King loses consciousness while talking with Diane.  Under the orders of the Queen, the unconscious King is now taken to Catherine's room. 

Montgomery comes to tell Diane that her life is in danger.  He wants to take her away, but Diane says no.  She says she's ready for anything that may happen to her. 

Catherine has Gondi arrested, thrown into the dungeon and put to the rack.  She adds that Gondi will confess to the plots of Gondi and her uncles against the King of France.  This confession will then be copied and send around Europe for others to read.  As the guards escort Gondi out of the room, he grabs his knife and stabs himself in the chest.  He dies.  Catherine has no facial or voice reaction to the suicide of Gondi.  She just tells the guards to have Diane brought to her. 

Catherine threatens Diane's life.  Diane, now powerless, tells Her Majesty that her (Diane's) life has lost its value.   The Dauphin rushes up to Diane because he has heard that she is going away.  Catherine now orders the guards to take Diane back to her own chateau where she will stay.  Catherine tells Diane to make sure that she never shows her face to the Queen again.  Diane leaves. 

Catherine cries over the death of Henri.  Her oldest son tries to console her.  Catherine then gives her son something wrapped in a handkerchief and tells him to give it to Diane.  The son obeys.  In the carriage Diane opens the handkerchief and finds the ring she had given to Henri as a sign of their mutual love.  Diane cries. 


Good movie, but the history is a bit jumbled up.  The film portrays the two women who loved Henri as two victims of love for the man Henri.  They are both a little too saintly, so one feels sorry for both of the women.  The condemnation falls mostly on the King, but he too is a bit of a victim of international politics.  Being saintly, doesn't provide much chance for great acting, as the emotions are limited.  As for the history, the sequence of events were often out of order or changed a bit.  Read the Historical Background for the real time line.  Otherwise, the film is pretty good and keeps one's interest. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


Historical Background: 


Diane de Poitiers  -   the mistress of French King Henri II, who ruled from 1547 to 1559.   


1498-1515  --  reign of King Louis XII of France. 

1499 (September 3)  --  birth of Diane de Poitiers, the daughter of Jean de Poitiers in the château de Saint-Vallier, in the town of Saint-Vallier, Drôme,in the Rhône-Alpes region of France.

She married Louis de Brézé, seigneur d'Anet, a grandson of King Charles VII.  Her husband served the court of King François I. She gained the title of Duchesse de Valentinois. 

When her husband died, she returned to the court. 

1515-1547  -- reign of King Francis I

1534  --  at age 35, Diane became the mistress of the then 16-year-old Henri d'Orléans, later to be King Henri II. 

The future King Henri II married Catherine de' Medici, but Diane de Poitiers remained his lifelong true love.

1536  --  the Dauphin, Henri's older brother, dies. Some thought it was from poison, but it could have been from natural causes.

1538  --  Diane and the future king had one daughter, Diane, Duchess d'AngoulLme.  Her daughter later married François, Duke of Montmorency.

1547  --  after the death of Francis I, Henri d'Orléans becomes King Henri II of France and rules until 1559..

Diane was intelligent and was a trusted adviser to the King.  She, for instance, wrote many of his official letters, and signed them HenriDiane.  She even had charge of the royal children's educations.  Pope Paul III sent the new Queen Catherine the "Golden Rose", but made sure to give a pearl necklace to Diane. 

Queen Catherine was very jealous and she had a right to be:  Henri gave her the Crown Jewels of France, had the Château d'Anet built for her, and gave her the beautiful Château Chenonceau.

1559  --  Henri was critically wounded in a jousting tournament.  Now Catherine gained control of Henri at last.  She restricted access to him, never summoned Diane to the king's bedside even though the king called out for her and refused to allow Diane to attend the funeral. Immediately thereafter, Catherine banished Diane to the Château de Chaumont.

1559-1560   --  reign of King Francis II of France. 

Diane soon moved on to her chateau in Anet, Eure-et-Loir.

1560-1574  --  reign of King Charles IX.

1566  --  Diane died at Anet, Eure-et-Loir.


for more info:  see Queen Margot (1994)



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