The Messenger: Joan of Arc

Friday, 14 November 2008 10:12

Director Luc Besson (“The Fifth Element”, “Leon”) co wrote with Andrew Birkin (“Perfume: The Story of a Murderer”) this historical drama in 1999 and it is now getting a much deserved Blu Ray release.

Milla Jovovich (“The Fifth Element”, “Resident Evil”) stars in the title role of this almost epic piece. We follow Joan’s early life in a small village in Eastern France as a committed Christian, who finds life wonderful and beautiful until the Hundred Years War disturbs her peace with tragic consequences. Joan receives messages from God and is determined to do His wishes. She is convinced that she will lead the French against the English and end the war.

The Mesenger - Joan of Arc Blu-RayJoan persuades the Dauphin (John Malkovich – “The Mutant Chronicles”, “Beowolf”) that she must lead an army to defeat the English. As her popularity with the common soldiers grows she seems able to do no wrong and drives the English back. Unfortunately, as her success increases, she becomes a nuisance to the Dauphin and his mother played with malice and grace – in equal measurers - by Faye Dunaway.

When Joan is captured by the English she is put on trial as a heretic, and faces her greatest challenge as she begins to doubt her own faith.

The film is beautifully shot with clever direction; the viewer is in the thick of the action for the battle scenes, but a distant observer for some of Joan’s more personal moments with God.

Jovovich portrays Joan as a country girl who has to learn fast to do God’s will. She will stop at nothing to complete her task and frequently has to be calmed down by the male officers. She is at times confused and almost driven insane by her visions. She is vulnerable one moment and a fierce warrior the next. Joan gains the respect of those closest to her and although they may not have her convictions they do believe she can help them. This is a very complex part for Jovovich, who pulls it off with ease. It is this sort of performance that underlines Jovovich’s versatility. She goes through a huge transformation within the film and is believable throughout.

Mention should be made of Jane Valentine who plays the young Joan at the start of the film; she sets a high standard in a short time and conveys Joan’s love of life and later despair with compassion.

Malkovich delivers a solid performance as The Dauphin and later King of France. Another difficult character to portray, but Malkovich seems to relish the part. Malkovich has a tendency to be play the same role regardless of the film he is in, but here he starts out as a vulnerable person and gradually becomes more arrogant as the French army turns back the tide of the English advance.

No attempt is made by the cast to disguise their accents; the French appear to be made up of not only Frenchmen but Americans and the British as well. Fortunately there are no strong accents to draw attention to this and it does not become an issue. Rather this than poor attempts at dialect that begin to grate quickly.

The use of a visible conscience for Joan in the shape of a young boy, a man and an older fatherly figure helps the viewer to understand what is happening to Joan, as she becomes further and further entangled in her mission. Dustin Hoffman as the older embodiment of Joan’s conscience is inspired casting; it is a small but pivotal part and his performance is subtle and reserved.

The occasional use of humour and extreme violence breaks up the story but does not distract from it. There is a need to take a break from the main narrative at times to let it settle in your mind and these brief diversions are perfect for this.

No doubt history scholars will be able to find fault at every turn with a film of this nature, but for the casual viewer whose only knowledge of Joan of Arc is from dusty school text books, this film will flesh out a legend that is both inspirational and mystifying at the same time.

The film benefits from the Blu Ray release as although there are not the obvious special effects of a science fiction film there are plenty of beautiful shots of landscapes, and the viewer is treated to the battles in all their visceral glory.

This film will stand the test of time, even for those without a religious faith of any description; it shows that when a person is determined enough and believes enough, anything is possible.

The Blu Ray version of this title will be released on 1 December 2008, priced £17.99, or less from

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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