Western monarchies in the modern world are a tricky institution, to say the least. Over in England, the Queen is certainly having a rocky time of it recently, even as she approaches her 70th year on the throne. Turns out, drama, back-room dealings and over-the-top media personalities have been a part of being a royal for quite some time and not just for the highest profile among them. In Queen Marie, a serviceable post-World War I period piece about the queen of Romania, who made it her mission to achieve international recognition for the unification of her country, all that intrigue gets lost somewhere in a dry plot and indistinguishable middle aged men in military uniforms. Directed by Alexis Sweet Cahill (and co-directed by Brigitte Drodtloff), the film’s strongest asset is its Queen, a London-based Romanian actress named Roxana Lupu who skillfully carries the film and wholly embodies a woman determined to prove to the world that her version of charm, diplomacy and media engagement really can change the world.
In an odd editorial choice, Queen Marie is bookended by a booming narration that explains the socio-political climate of the time; particularly for Romania, the years following WWI proved to be quite consequential as several nations determined to unify in order to create a single territory with centralized leadership and common goals for their people. Both of these scenes feel shoehorned into an otherwise polished production set in the same era as the later seasons of Downton Abbey; in that way, much of the scenery and costumes will look familiar, all the gilded rooms and dropped waistlines. If one can look past this early awkwardness, the introduction to Marie herself is warm and reassuring. From the outset, she is a woman who knows herself well and easily switches between her many roles, from mother to monarch and everything in between. Over the course of the film, Lupu deploys Romanian, French and English as fluently as the real Queen likely did (who was a granddaughter of none other than Queen Victoria).
The film’s plot is, as far as one can tell with the help of Wikipedia, fairly faithful to how actual events unfolded. After diplomatic talks over recognizing Romania’s unification stalled out in Paris, Marie and her advisers made a clandestine plan to send her on a trip abroad, from Bucharest to London then over to Paris, where she’d meet with some of the very men whom her husband, King Ferdinand (Daniel Plier) couldn’t seem to win over. The film also weaves in the drama of their grown children, namely Prince Carol (Anghel Damian), the heir apparent whose love for a commoner threatened to usurp his position as next in line to the throne. Sound familiar? Through it all, Lupu reigns supreme with a coolness that Marie surely learned growing up in the royal households of Europe; she finds herself across the table from the likes of Woodrow Wilson (Patrick Drury) and French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau (Ronald Chenery) and never seems to lose her composure through any of it. The fierceness with which she reminds one diplomat in particular of her royal heritage is enough to draw chills.
Unfortunately, the film itself muddles Marie’s quite impressive story; IMDb lists no fewer than five writers in its credits (Gabi Antal, Ioana Manea, Maria-Denise Teodoru and the directors), usually a sign that a script’s been sent through the shredder and reassembled more than once. And that’s exactly how this cobbled-together plot feels as it winds down to the historically accurate resolution that eventually, the powers that be did recognize Romania as a unified nation and shortly thereafter King Ferdinand and Queen Marie were crowned as monarchs over the new country. As these films usually do, Queen Marie sent me down a Wikipedia rabbit hole to read up on the real royalty; there I learned that the two actually had a quite unhappy relationship, a juicy dynamic not terribly explored here. The two exchange kind words in a scene towards the end of the film, Ferdinand only alluding to the fact that they haven’t always seen eye to eye, and even before you know the reality of their marriage, it’s a moment that feels short-changed.
It’s always encouraging to see women of days gone by get their due in books, films, television series, anything that brings their stories to wider audiences. I certainly know more about Queen Marie and her astonishingly accomplished life than I did before. And while most of that came from my own research after the fact, Queen Marie proves to be a decent enough entry point into the woman at this particular moment in her life. Perhaps before long, someone at a major streamer with buckets of money will decide to give her the prestige treatment she deserves.
Queen Marie is now available on VOD platforms.
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