In 1456, French King Charles VII recalls the story of how he met the seventeen-year-old peasant girl Joan of Arc, entrusted her with the command of the French Army, and ultimately burned her at the stake as a heretic.
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Young Joan of Arc comes to the palace in France to make The Dauphin King of France and is appointed to head the French Army. After winning many battles she is not needed any longer and soon she is thought of as a witch.Written by
The Joan of Arc story is always a hard one to deal with, especially for skeptics. Did she really hear voices, divinely inspired, that put the burden of liberating France on her 17 year old shoulders? Or should she have been locked in a loony bin?
I'm not really sure that any other culture than the French ought to be telling her story, inevitably the interpretation will fall short of the mark. It falls short here because we have two diametrically opposed viewpoints working on the treatment.
The key to this film is that it is adapted from a play by George Bernard Shaw by Graham Greene. So we have the writing of a Fabian Socialist being interpreted by one very Catholic writer. I think there's a great deal more Greene than Shaw.
Shaw gets his innings here, but I think Graham Greene dominates the film. If he had lived I'm sure Shaw would not have approved.
Charles VIII in history or as portrayed by Richard Widmark here or Jose Ferrer in the Ingrid Bergman film about Joan of Arc, is not the noblest of monarchs. If you are a good Catholic, what he did was going against the will of the Deity. Otherwise though what he tries to do in consolidating his gains makes perfect good sense.
It's funny that I did a review of Olivier's Henry V which viewed from the English point of view which shows how the French got in the situation they were in. What happens afterwards is that Henry V dies quite suddenly like Alexander the Great and England with an infant monarch and fifty year plus struggle for power implodes internally.
Before he died however Charles VII disowned his son the Dauphin and blessed the marriage of Henry V to his daughter Katherine with the provision that Henry succeed Charles VII as King. The French for good reason do not list the English Henry as one of their kings.
Enter Joan of Arc whose visions inspire an army and a nation. As played by Jean Seberg she's in the right age group to be sure. But I think Ingrid Bergman being the far more skilled professional carries it off better in her film. Ditto for Jose Ferrer instead of Richard Widmark. The best acted parts in this film are Anton Walbrook as Cauchon the Bishop who presided over the trial and the clever and serpentine John Gielgud as the Earl of Warwick.
Maybe if Otto Preminger had chosen to film pure Shaw, Saint Joan would have been better received.
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