After Johnny Depp's Louis XV, the Cannes Film Festival rolled out the red carpet on Sunday to Henry VIII of England, embodied by a Jude Law transformed into a jealous and paranoid king. If Jeanne du Barry's "Beloved" is not unanimous, some critics pointing out the few sentences uttered by the ex-Pirate of the Caribbean, Firebrand (Le jeu de la reine ) by Karim Aïnouz, presented in competition , is a fresco that should leave its royal mark on the Croisette, thanks in particular to the striking performance of Jude Law.
The Tudor dynasty has been an endless source of inspiration for the big and small screen, but very few evoke, like Firebrand, the fate of Catherine Parr, the king's sixth and last wife. As straight out of the paintings of Hans Holbein, the film offers a very beautiful play of lights and colors, with often freeze frames on Jude Law and Alicia Vikander, who lends her features to Catherine Parr.
Jude Law is almost unrecognizable as Henry VIII who, at the end of his life, had become obese, lame due to a leg infection.
The actor manages, as in a dark fairy tale, to make Henry VIII very real, this Bluebeard who repudiated two of his wives (Catherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves), beheaded two others (Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard) and lost another in childbirth (Jane Seymour).
“I didn't know anything about the Tudor House but it was Catherine Parr's character that motivated me because no one had made a film about her. It was always about the wives who died and not the one who survived, or about the king, who was a monster,” Brazilian director Karim Aïnouz told AFP.
“Jude Law really tried to embody the physique of Henry VIII. He walked for months with weights on his legs... He had back pain after filming so much he imitated the king's limp," he says, adding that the actor also read about twenty books on the monarch to appropriate the character.
In the film, described by Aïnouz as a "hymn against the patriarchy", Henry VIII flies into a rage when Bishop Stephen Gardiner manages to convince him that the queen actively supports the "new faith", at a time when faith Protestantism was gaining ground in England.
"We've been there before," he keeps repeating, the film deftly showing how doubts gradually creep into his mind. Everything else in the cast is top notch, including Alicia Vikander as a queen with a reputation for being able to calm the king's stormy temper.
“She was an extremely intelligent woman (…) who survived a tyrant. I can't imagine what it's been like for her," the actress, known for playing an android in Ex Machina, told AFP.
She says Jude Law's acting was so impressive that she was marked by the scenes where the king "prowls around" her or looks at her differently, rather than the violent scenes.
The film details his sympathy for Anne Asqew, a Protestant poetess who will be condemned to the stake for heresy. If there is no historical evidence, Firebrand shows encounters between them and the Queen's very clear adherence to reformist ideas, especially in a scene where we see her praying in English and not in Latin, one of the pillars of Protestantism. .
Was it risky for a Brazilian director of Algerian origin to embark on a film on the English monarchy? "When Americans make a movie about Cleopatra with Elizabeth Taylor, we don't ask ourselves the question," he smiles.