Joan of Arc (1999)




Director:  Christian Duguay

Starring:  Leelee Sobieski ( Joan D'Arc), Jacqueline Bisset (Isabelle D'Arc), Powers Boothe (Jacques D'Arc), Neil Patrick Harris ( The Dauphin, later King Charles VII of France), Maury Chaykin (Sir Robert de Baudricourt ), Olympia Dukakis (Mother Babette), Jonathan Hyde (Duke of Bedford), Robert Loggia (Father Monet), Shirley MacLaine ( Madame de Beaurevoir), Peter O'Toole (Bishop Cauchon), Maximilian Schell (Brother John Le'Maitre), Peter Strauss (La Hire), Chad Willett (Jean de Metz), Ron White (Dunois), Jaimz Woolvett (Duke of Burgundy).


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

Joan of Arc is being burned at the stake. 

"Once, in a time known as the Dark Ages, there lived a legend whose coming had been foretold by the great prophet Merlin.  It was said that after nearly a century of war this young maiden would unite her divided people and lead them to freedom.  It did not say how." 

1412.  The Village of Domremy (in the war zone of Northern France).   Joan's mother gives birth to Joan.  Her husband is going to kill the baby because they don't need another mouth to feed.  And the Burgundian soldiers are coming!  Husband tells Isabelle to save their sons, but Isabelle will not have her daughter killed and her husband relents. 

1422.  Ten years later.  Joan is a young girl.  She plays with her blind friend Emile outside the remains of a fortress.  She says she is tired of hiding (from the English and the Burgundians).  She proclaims that:  "When the maid of Lorraine comes with ten thousand men to drive the English out."  Nobody knows what the maid looks like or when she will come. 

Joan is in church with her mother and father and brothers.  She has a vision where the statue of the Virgin Mary is splashed with daylight on a dreary day.  Joan gets up and runs outside.  After the service her mother asks Joan if she is alright.  Joan remains quiet.  She goes into the empty church.  This time the light shines on her and she hears soft voices.   The priest asks her if she has something to confess.  No. The father says:  "I have never seen such piety at such a young age."  The priest tells her about the Battle of Agincourt (1415) when the English scored a huge victory over the French. Joan asks why God punishes the French so fiercely?  The priest blames man, not God. 

1429.  Seven years later.  Joan rides a horse with her blind friend behind her.  They return to the site of the old fortress.  She looks over the landscape and says that France should be whole.  Back home refugees from another village running from the Burgundians come to Domremy.  Her father tells the refugees to leave.  They have no food to spare.  Joan tries to give a piece of bread to a hungry child, but dad stops her. 

At dinner Joan speaks out for helping the refugees.  A male guest says that Joan is very outspoken.  Her father says she will outgrow it, but Joan replies:  "I will never outgrow simple decency.  It's people like you who do nothing to stop the miseries of the world."  Dad tells her to get out, so she walks down to the church.  She tells the father that she heard the voice of Saint Catherine.  At first the voices told her to strive to be a good person, but now they tell her she must prepare to leave.  She in interrupted by a horsemen shouting out that the Burgundians are coming.  The villagers flee. Emile is still in the village, so Joan goes to get him, saying he is her best and only friend.  The Burgundians start burning the village.  Emile is caught in the fire and dies.  Joan cries out:  "Why?!  He was your best child.  What did he do wrong?  What did I do wrong?"    The light and the voices come to her again.  She answers:  "Yes, I will."

A force of men arrive to help the villagers, but it is already too late.  The soldiers take some of the livestock from the villagers for the king.  Joan jumps onto the back of the livestock wagon and hides.

The City of Vaucouleurs (under Burgundian siege).  The wagon arrives in the castle.  Hungry people descend on the wagon and the soldier have to fight them off in order to deliver the livestock to the king.  A soldier named Jean DeMetz discovers Joan hiding in the back of the wagon.  She jumps out and starts to run, but is stopped by two castle guards.  Jean thinks she is just a camp follower, even though she does look "wholesome".  Joan tells the soldier that she just wants to go with the animals to Chinon (where the Dauphin, the future French king, is staying).   The soldier tells her that the livestock are going to feed Sir Robert, who controls the castle.  Joan tells him that she simply must go to Chinon to see the Dauphin because he needs her.  She has a mission to get the crown for the Dauphin and unite the people of France.  One of the soldiers laughs, but she is taken to see Sir Robert. 

The soldier introduces Joan as the Maid of Lorraine to Sir Robert.  But Sir Robert and the soldier just laugh at her.  The castle owner tells the soldier to send Joan back to her father for a good beating.  At night Joan wanders through the streets.  The next day she is found sleeping on a church pew.  A nun named Barbette feeds her in return for some work from Joan.  The nun comes to believe she is a very talented young woman.  She writes a message to the villagers of the area to come to the castle at Vaucouleurs and help her rebuild a strong France.  It is signed:  "The Maid of Lorraine." 

Soon Joan is directing the strengthening of the defenses of the castle.  Sir Robert looks out the window and sees people busily working on the defenses.  He sends for her.  She arrives dressed as a man and Sir Robert laughs at her.   Joan convinces him to send her to Chinon.  Sir Robert writes a note saying that he thinks Joan is the Maid of Lorraine.  The soldier that brought her to Sir Robert, Jean, now will take Joan to the Dauphin Charles. 

The group camps out for the night.  Jean tells Joan that he is not part of her fantasy.  He is just leading her to Charles. 

The Loire Valley (the front lines of English occupation).  They are at Orleans.  The English are working their way over to the city and it will soon be under siege.  They go into a village.  Joan goes into the Church of St. Catherine for further guidance.  Jean follows her to watch what she does.  She sees Jean and explains that Saint Catherine is her patron saint and she speaks to Joan.  Jean asks who she is.  The answer is nobody.  Where's this all going?  Joan says she doesn't know.  "I'm just taking it as it comes."  From the church Joan takes "St. Catherine's sword". 

Somewhere near the Burgundian English border.  A Englishman tells the Burgundian Philip that hr diverted troops from his siege of Orleans, all for a girl.  Philip says it's not just a girl;  it's the Maid of Lorraine.  He says this girl has diverted his siege of Vaucouleurs.  Philip insists they find the maid and kill her. 

Joan cuts off her long hair.  Some English soldiers stop a wagon.  They go to kill the peasants and Joan shouts out:  "No!"  So the English start chasing Joan, Jean and the soldiers with them.  They lose one man and the English lose one man, but the rest of the groups escapes. 

The City of Chinon (Charles's court).  One of the men of Joan's escort delivers the message of Sir Robert to the Dauphin.  The Dauphin complains to Bishop Cauchon that he has a much harder time raising revenues than the church has.    Charles reads the note about the Maid of Lorraine.  He says he has tried this ploy before.  He even recruited candidates, but it never seemed to work.  The bishop advises that Charles send the girl away because the church does not care for "self-proclaimed icons".      

The Dauphin decides to receive her.  They will put her through a test.  Charles changes places with another man.  They also exchange headgear.  Charles goes into the crowd at court.  Joan comes in and walks slowly over to the man on the throne.  She stops suddenly.  Joan looks around the room and spots Charles in the crowd.  She walks over to him and bows.  Joan meets the bishop, kisses his hand and then goes down to kiss the hem of his gown.  She then asks for a private audience with Charles, so everyone else leaves the room. 

Alone with Charles, Joan immediately says that she has been sent by God to help Charles bring about the unification of all of France.  Charles asks why has God chosen her and she replies:  "I don't know.  But I do understand why he has been so insistent."  She insists that they must raise the English siege of Orleans.  Charles explains that he neither has the money or the means, and besides, ". . . nobody believes in France anymore".  He then asks Joan why does she claim to be the mythical Maid of Lorraine. She denies that she is the maid.  Nevertheless, she says that God has selected Charles to be King of France and he must go to Orleans.  The Dauphin says that the army will follow the Maid of Lorraine and that Joan will have to play her part.  Joan objects that she cannot live such a lie, but Charles points out that if God sent her, then perhaps she is the Maid of Lorraine. 

Charles emerges from the meeting saying he is convinced Joan is the Maid of Lorraine.  They only have to determine that she is a pure maiden.  Joan returns to her escort and with a big smile tells Jean:  "My mission continues."

Joan is sent to the convent at Poitiers.  They conclude that Joan is chaste.  The clerics determine that she is sincere about her claim of divine guidance.  She is free to go in front of the French army.  There has been a great turnout of men who will fight for France under the guidance of the Maid of Lorraine. 

At night she goes to the commander of the army, Captain La Heir, who slowly looks her over and says to another man:  "Well, she certainly looks the part."   He tells Joan that around here, "grown men command".  The defense adviser to the king asks Joan to leave..   Joan objects and La Heir tells her:  "You may stay or you may go, but be quiet."   Joan stays and listens to the captain talk.  Across the river from the fort around Orleans, the English have captured a smaller French fort.  La Heir says they have 12,000 men, but half of them are useless.  Joan objects that the captain is only taking enough food for his army.  He will not bring food for the starving people at Orleans.  Joan insists that they bring food for the people.  The defense adviser tells Joan to just play her part, stay out of the way and try not to get herself killed.  But Joan stands up to him.  She replies:  "I'm here by the will of God with the authority of the king and the blessings of the church.  And I say that the people of Orleans must be fed."   Joan leaves the tent. 

The City of Orleans.  The army arrives.  La Heir and Joan look over the landscape.  Joan says the southwest gate is free and they can get the food into the people.  The captain says the English archers will tear the troops up, but Joan notes that the English are settling down for the night.  La Heir tells her he's not taking orders from a woman who is also a child.  Joan threatens to refuse to go with him and correctly points out that the troops will not follow him without her.  The captain has to relent and they go into the fortress.  The English commander at the small castle calls his guard an idiot for letting the Maid of Lorraine reach Orleans.  As Joan enters, the people go down on their knees before her.  Joan now calls herself, Joan the Maid.  One of Joan's brothers agrees to take a message from Joan to the English.  The English let the brother in, but they take his message and put him into prison. 

The next night the captain wants to attack immediately, but Joan insists that the English must be given a chance to leave peacefully.  The captains thinks she's naive.  So he tells her about the Battle of Agincourt.  They were 4,000 strong, while the English had only about 500 men.  But it rained heavily and when the horses and horsemen in heavy armor get caught in the mud, many of the men were thrown off their horses.  The English slaughtered the French like "pigs".

Joan goes to see Victor, the gate keeper of the small castle.  The man has the plague, but Joan goes anyway with a scarf over her nose and mouth.   He tells her that the English got in by trickery through the open front gate.  Joan learns the ramparts of the castle are made of wood.  That's all she needed to know.  She thanks Victor in the name of all the people of France. 

Joan tells the captain that they will set fire to a hay rack for the horses by means of flaming arrows.  She says they will wait one more day for the English to respond.  But the next morning, she finds the troops preparing for battle.  Joan is furious and marches up to yell at the captain.  He brings her over to a window to show her that the English have already given their answer.  They have archers up on the ramparts and they are sending a messenger to bring reinforcements.  He says:  "We attack now." 

The messenger is stopped by Jean and his men.  He reads the message and tells his friend, the squire, that they must get into battle positions against the English.  Joan and the captain lead their men into their positions.  The squire is given the job of landing an arrow in the hay rack.  Joan says a few words to the men:  "Be of good hearts, my friends.  Today our noble king will have a great victory, because we are guided by the king of heaven.  We're all in God's hands  --- even those who think otherwise."  The last remark was meant for the non-religious La Heir.  Joan is given the battle standard and she shouts:  "For God and for France." 

The battle begins with a cannon shot that blows up one of the corner towers of the small castle.  The men attack.  Quite a few of them are killed by a hail of English arrows.  Soon its hand-to-hand fighting with the English troops outside the fort.  The squire is able to get a flaming arrow inside another of the corner towers.  Jean is about to gain access to the ramparts, when Joan calls out for him.  This brings attention to her and an English arrowhead goes right through her shoulder.  When the French troops see this, they retreat. 

Joan will not stay down, however.  She has them break off the part of the arrow with the arrowhead and then they pull the arrow shaft out of her shoulder.  They put her back on a horse and she leads the men in another attack. 

Meanwhile, a wedding is held for one of Joan's brothers.  Father toasts to his son and their brides, but one brother toasts also to Joan, the Maid of Lorraine.  This does not please father.  The offending son leaves the house. 

Joan leads the troops.  Men start getting onto the ramparts.  And this time the squire lands a flaming arrow into the hay rack.  La Heir gets into the castle and seeks out battle with the English commander Glasdale. Joan's brother is freed from prison.  Glasdale with the help of some of his men gets the better of La Heir and is about to run his blade through the captain's throat, when the draw bride is let down and there stands the sole figure of Joan on her horse.  She yells:  "Glasdale!  Come out so that I may send you to hell!"  Glasdale turns to go to her and is struck down by many arrows to his chest. 

The French are victorious. 

1429.  Rheims Cathedral.  The Dauphin is crowned King Charles VII of France.  Joan is there to take part in the ceremony.  The king goes out to receive the applause of the crowd. 

The bishop has a verbal confrontation with Joan.  He says her voices and her interpretation of these voicesare not only naive, but dangerous.  Without the guidance of the church, she cannot guarantee the purity of her interpretations.  He says the people will want to make her more important than the message and that will lead her to be filled with arrogance and pride.  The bishop goes further, saying there is no guarantee that her voices were from God.  Then he tells her to go out to be by the side of the king.  Joan goes out to the same applause from the people, for they demanded to see the Maid of Lorraine. 

Joan sees her once imprisoned brother.  He tells her that he is going to join the army.  Joan rejects the idea.  Now Joan is more cynical, talking about how she was used by others.  But her brother believes in her, believes that she did something very important for the people of France. 

Jean tells Joan that she has to attend the banquet tonight.  Charles has singed an agreement giving the Burgundians her hometown and other towns loyal to Charles.  Joan goes and speaks her mind.  She says the king has betrayed towns and people loyal to him.  She says while others fight to unite his kingdom, the king is slicing the territory up for the Burgundians.   Charles says the Burgundians have promised him Paris.  The bishop jumps in against Joan.  He asks how can they rely on her voices?  La Heir worries also about her voices, believing she will get into trouble one day and there will be no one there to provide her with back-up.  Jean now asks for permission to take Paris.  The bishop jumps in again and this time says that Joan is very close to heresy.  This time Charles comes to the rescue making light of the situation.  The people laugh and give him a round of applause.  He refers to Joan as a "virtuous subject" and the people clap.  This pleases Joan, at least. 

Paris will not cooperate with Joan because they are afraid of what the Burgundians will do to them.  The mayor says they will fight Joan.  Joan will attack at dawn.  Even some of Joan's supporters doubt her.  La Heir says it's madness to attack Paris.  Then he leaves saying:  "We are now both utterly alone."

Joan attacks Paris.  Again and again she tries, but without success.  The squire is killed in battle, which upsets both Joan and Jean. 

The bishop is now punished for casting doubt on the Maid of Lorraine.  He is sent to those towns loyal to Charles, but now controlled by the Burgundians.  The bishop says he is being sent into exile. 

Jean is now knocked down in battle.  Joan rushes to him and holds him.  The men form a circle around her to keep the English from getting to her.  Joan asks the king for permission to go home on leave.  Charles says she must stay at court for he might still need her.  Feeling she has been abandoned, Joan prays for guidance from heaven. 

Charles goes out to speak to the Burgundian commander and the English representative.  The French king tells them he was as shocked as they were when Joan on her own attacked Paris.  He asks for another 30 day period of no conflict between the three factions.  During this period, the English and the Burgundians may take the towns now loyal to Charles.  If they won't cooperate, he says they have still now experienced the full power of the maid.  Now Charles agrees to let Joan go home on leave.  When she returns, they will confer on her a very special honor. 

Joan goes home.  Her mother is very glad to see her.  Charles says goodbye to the bishop, who tells the king that he is the most cunning and ruthless man he has ever known.  He betrayed his bishop for Joan and will betray Joan as soon as he doesn't need her.  He adds that Joan doesn't realize she had put a monster on the throne. 

Joan stays for dinner.  Her father criticizes her and blames her for the death of his son Pierre, who followed in her footsteps.  He asks her what she wants from him and she says forgiveness.  Later Joan prays for forgiveness for the sin of pride. 

Beauvais, the Northern district of Compiegne.  The bishop takes up his new post.  The English adviser to the Burgundians asks the bishop how can he destroy a girl both in body and in name.  He has come to the bishop because he heard that the bishop has called the same girl a heretic.  The bishop says that if Joan is captured in his diocese, it would be his duty to fight for her immortal soul. 

Joan prepares to go back to court.  She tells her father that she is leaving because she has a calling.  And yet, she says she is afraid.  Dad finally says some kind words to her and she goes back feeling a bit better.  Her voices come back to her and they tell her that Charles will betray her.  She adds that her darkest times are ahead of her.  Jean brings a letter to Joan from Compiegne, asking her to save them from the Burgundians. 

Charles makes Joan a noble woman in a court ceremony.  And from now on she will be the Flower of France.  Joan asks to be sent to Compiegne to liberate the people there.  Charles gives her 200 men but will send La Heir to her with a small army.    A group of soldiers approaches.  Joan thinks its La Heir, but it turns out to be the Burgundians.  The Flower of France surrenders herself to the Burgundians, thereby avoiding any bloodshed.

De Beaurevoir Castle, in the heart of Burgundy.  Joan has stopped eating in her jail cell because she heard that the Burgundians are going to sell her to the English.  Her interrogator is about to hit her for her impudence when Madame de Beaurevoir comes in and stops him, saying the girl is not a threat.  She takes Joan out of her cell and up to her rooms.  Madame says her time is short and she want to get into heaven.  She figures that God will favor her if she keeps the maiden out of the hands of the English.  Joan tells her that her capture was just part of God's plan.  Madame wants to educate Joan.  She says Joan must allow Burgundy to embrace her.  Then Joan can led the armies of Burgundy.  Joan says that's not going to happen.  Madame gets so carried away that she falls into a coughing fit.  Madame's son blames Joan for bringing his mother to this physical state.   On her deathbed Madame warns her that the church will try her for heresy.  She says that Joan must remember these words:  "Our Lord first served."  As Joan prays, Madame dies. 

An English prison in Rouen.  The bishop is there and Joan asks him questions about what will happen to her.  Jean talks with La Heir and quite a number of men who commit themselves to rescuing Joan from the English. 

Rouen courthouse.  Jean and La Heir are in Rouen now.  They get into the courthouse.  The bishop presides over the religious inquisition.  He tells the court that Joan believes all that she says, but pride has caused her to encourage the people to venerate her.  Joan is brought in.  She says she will answer all questions, except those dealing with the revelations that are meant only for her king.   She see Jean in the courtroom.  The bishop asks her about the voices and the saints.  The voices tell her that within seven years time, disaster will befall the English and soon thereafter they will lose control of France.  She tells the bishop that he is in great danger.  For judging her, he will suffer greatly in body and soul.  The bishop takes her to the rack and says they will torture out of her what she said to Charles to convince him she is the Maid of Lorraine.  Joan says they may force it out of her, but as soon as she can, she will deny what she told them. 

The trial now continues in secret.  Brother John Le'Maitre of the Inquisition takes over the questioning.  He and the bishop ask her if she will accept the decisions of the court?  She says she will, as long as the Lord is first served.  Brother John says that Joan is an unrepentant heretic who puts herself above the church and she will burn.  The bishop and Brother John take her out and show her the site where she will be burned.  Now she says she will sign the document the church demands that she sign.  This will keep her from burning at the stake. At night, Joan is raped. 

Charles cavalierly refers to "poor Joan" who never learned the art of survival, but she did make an excellent king-maker.  Asked about rescuing Joan, Charles says he will not rescue a "heretic".   

Jean goes in to see Joan.  She is very down, if not depressed.  He tells her that they have gathered an army and it is just over the hill.  This gives Joan some hope.  Joan says there is nothing left of the maid.  Jean tells her not to say that.  He then pleads that she be ready for them tomorrow.  She finally smiles and says:  "I will be saved."   Now she renounces her signed confession.  So Joan is bound over to the secular authorities who will burn her at the stake.  Since she has recanted, they will execute her at once.  La Heir says he will go get the men.  Jean stays to give Joan hope. 

A barefooted Joan has to walk up to the stake where her hands are tied behind her.   La Heir reaches the men and they start their attack.  Joan asks for a crucifix to be brought level with her eyes.  Jean brings a crucifix level with her eyes.  The sticks around her platform are lit.  She looks upward and moans loudly:   "God.  God. God.  God.  Jesus."  As the men come over the hill they see the smoke from the execution fire rising over Rouen.  Joan looks up to heaven and sees a light coming down on her and she says:  "Thank you!  Thank you!"  

"As predicted, 7 years after her death, Burgundy joined with France and drove the English out.  Charles reigned successfully for another 30 years.  Cauchon was installed as Archbishop to the Diocese of Rouen.  Jean DeMetz never married.  Isabelle ultimately succeeded in having her daughter's verdict rescinded.  Joan was canonized 500 years later.  Witnesses at Joan's execution, claim that her heart never burned." 




Compared to the other Joan of Arc film of 1999(The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc), Leelee Sobieski's Joan is much less obsessed and in less of a hurry than the Joan of Arc portrayed by Milla Jovovich.  So one can see two different versions of Joan of Arc. Both are good movies.   

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

Historical Background:


See  The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999).



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