Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Queen Marie (of Romania)

20th Century Romanian history was complicated. They really were left high and dry when newly Bolshevik Russia pulled out of WWI. Unfortunately, it would be the Soviets that later occupied the nation after WWII. In between, they initially allied themselves with Germany (against the USSR), but later switched sides (sort of). Navigating great macro events is tricky for small countries. Romania could have been even smaller, were it not for the efforts of its queen during the Treaty of Versailles negotiations. The monarch gets her due in Alexis Sweet Cahill’s Queen Marie [of Romania], which releases this Friday on VOD.

If nothing else, Cahill’s mostly English language film should remind us what a terrible president Woodrow Wilson was. The film calls him a “conservative,” but he was really a progressive and a racist (not a great pandemic president either, by the way). As the film opens, he is openly disdainful of the Romanian unification cause, walking out on Prime Minister Ion Bratianu’s presentations. In a last-ditch effort, the Queen is dispatched to Paris. As the cousin of the British king, Queen Marie will have more prestige, even though Romania’s constitutional monarchy has no formal policy-making role.

In some ways,
Queen Marie feels like a prequel to Atlantic Crossing. It too focuses on a glamorous royal, using her charm to save her nation. However, the PBS series presents a much more complex and balanced portrait of Norway’s Crown Princess Marta. In contrast, Cahill and his battery of co-screenwriters (Brigitte Drodtloff, Maria-Denise Teodoru, Ioana Manea, and Gabi Antal) are unflaggingly reverential.

Queen Marie
might be hagiography, but it is really good-looking hagiography. Cinematographer Gabriel Kosuth lenses some lovely scenes, especially a horseback ride through the forest (the closest the film comes to creating any romantic tension).

Roxana Lupu and Daniel Plier convey the dignity and gravity of the positions the king and queen find themselves, but they always look like they are consciously portraying great historical figures. At least Adrian Titieni helps liven the film up as the gruff and fiery PM Bratianu. Richard Elfyn earns some odd laughs with his surprisingly nebbish portrayal of David Lloyd George, while Patrick Drury probably makes the ailing Wilson look more forceful and reasonable than he really was.

Queen Marie
is not a great film, but it tells an interesting story and presents a perspective on history North Americans rarely see. It is also a very well-made period production, filled with rich sets and vintage trappings. Those intrigued by the era probably will not begrudge time spent with the film, if they keep the expectations in check. Most viewers can wait until it appears on free streaming sites. In the meantime, Queen Marie releases this Friday (5/7) on VOD.