Review: Alexis Cahill and Brigitte Drodtloff’s ‘Queen Marie’

Queen Marie Movie Film

Thank you to Queen Marie for entering my life. To use critic cliches, Alexis Cahill and Brigitte Drodtloff’s 2021 drama is both “compelling” and “a triumph,” largely because of Roxana Lupu’s stunning, heart-warming and hopefully star-making lead performance. To use some words from the heart, though, Queen Marie is a film that makes me think about the closest women in my life, and what can be gleaned from their perseverance and proactive behavior.

Queen Marie’s World War I premise may be complex, but the central conflict is somewhat simple. Lupu’s protagonist — the cousin of the future King George V — lobbies for recognition of Greater Romania at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. Not only does the Queen demand respect from international leaders, but she’s also invested in the collective well-being of Romania’s citizens, and wants to transform the region’s reputation. Unsurprisingly, Queen Marie receives pushback from power-hungry males in Paris, and even from her husband King Ferdinard (Daniel Plier), oldest son Carol (Anghel Damian) and youngest son Nicholas or “Nicky” (Barnaby Taylor).

More by Q.V. Hough: Review: Yimou Zhang’s ‘Cliff Walkers’

Queen Marie Movie Film

Queen’s Marie’s tonal rhythm shows that Cahill and Drodtloff know exactly what they want to accomplish with each scene. Sure, there’s some heavy melodrama throughout the film, but each of the vignettes always build to big moments, and without any didactic exposition. The filmmakers steadily identify (and make fun of) the protagonist’s male threats, but then shift to light-hearted moments that allow Lupu to shine as her stylish character. Rather than overwhelming the audience with politics, Cahill and Drodtloff emphasize key moments during the Queen’s Paris journey, and what her conversations reveal about her moral compass. Since there are so many fun moments, full of quotable dialogue, all of the exquisite production design pops out and complements Lupu’s motherly demeanor.

More by Q.V. Hough: Review: Mia Donovan’s ‘Dope Is Death’

Queen Marie Movie Film

According to Variety, Queen Marie is “dutiful in noting its subject’s accomplishments, but strangely negligent of her personality.” I have to disagree. Even though the film blatantly aims to celebrate the Queen’s resume and agency as a female leader, Lupu’s performance is anything but “deadly dull,” nor is there a heavy amount of “stodgy exposition,” as The New York Times suggests. Indeed, each sequence shows the Queen showing a different side of herself through Lupu’s eye movements, dialogue delivery and how she moves in relation to her male counterparts. It’s not an Oscar-worthy performance, but it’s comparable to Kirsten Dunst in Sofia Coppola’s 2006 film Marie Antoinette. She’s having fun. The filmmakers are having fun. So, when U.S. President Woodrow Wilson processes one of the Queen’s dramatic monologues and states “You sure can drive your point home” — just like a traditional father figure plucked from 50s-era American TV — the moment is perhaps inadvertently funny but also doesn’t feel out of place given the overall filmmaking execution. Lupu has a striking screen presence, which makes her menacing stares and joyful facial expressions so entertaining and endearing. Later, when the Queen ultimately reaches a low moment and questions her role in a world dominated by males, Lupu’s performance becomes especially critical, and she slays it. Queen Marie may not be a modern historical classic, but its wink-of-the-eye moments subtly inform the audience about the filmmakers’ intent. That, I can appreciate.

Q.V. Hough (@QVHough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor.