Henry of Navarre follows the rise of King Henry IV of France; a man who’s now know as not only the warrior King, but one of history’s great defenders of justice and religious freedom; from his humble beginnings playing with peasants as a child, to the epic battles he led during the Wars of Religion, and beyond.
Following the warrior King (Julien Boisselier, Don’t Worry I’m Fine) from his childhood, Henry of Navarre allows us to see the King fight in his first ever battle, and become a great leader in the Wars of Religion; a civil war which threatened to tear apart the very foundations of France itself (a nation which was not only one of the most powerful countries in medieval Europe, but the world), and saw him leading a Protestant army (the Huguenots) against the Catholic-led royal family, in a bid for religious freedom.
The film centers around the events that led up to, and followed Henry’s marriage to Margaret of Valois (Armelle Deutsch, La Chance De Ma Vie); a marriage that was supposed to unite the warring Protestants and Catholics (as Henry led the Protestant army, and Margaret was the sister of the Catholic King), but was used by Margaret’s mother Catherine De Medici (Hannelore Hoger, Bella Block) as a means of betraying the Huguenots, and orchestrating the brutal Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.
After Catherine orders the slaughter of thousands of Huguenots within the walls of Paris, we then watch as Henry has to not only sacrifice his principals in order to survive, but exercise every ounce of his cunning, to escape the clutches of the vile Catherine, reignite the war, and ensure that her betrayal doesn’t go unpunished; all whilst developing new relationships, growing older, trying to find a compromise for all religions in France, and contending with a number of outside influences that threaten not only him, but his entire people.
It’s an epic tale of not only one man’s rise to greatness, but the route which a broken nation travelled to become a strong and peaceful nation, and covers the story in a truly epic fashion; played out in a very political manner (with all the backstabbing, betrayal, and hidden bitterness, one would expect from a medieval royal court), accentuated by numerous sex scenes, and the backdrop of a brutal war (which is played out onscreen through a number of gritty and realistic battles that are so well shot they can rival the likes of those seen in Robin Hood, Gladiator, and Braveheart).
The entire cast are also superb in their respective roles, though none more so than Julien Boisselier; who played Henry’s part with a truly regal quality, yet wasn’t afraid to show his numerous flaws and vices when called for, and remained believable when he needed to be strong, brave, political, and frightened for his life. Hannelore Hoger was fantastic as the vicious Catherine De Medici (flawlessly pulling off the role of the bitter and power-hungry old woman), Chloe Stefani was easily likable as Henry’s love Gabrielle D’Estrees, and Joachim Krol (Run Lola Run) was as endearing, likable, believable, and loyal, as any King’s best friend has ever been in his role as Agrippa.
Having to cover such a large period of history (basically an entire man’s lifespan) there’s undoubtedly going to be some things that are missed out, skimmed over, or otherwise summed up in a dramatic fashion, but Henry of Navarre does an excellent job of re-telling the tale of a King who shouldn’t be forgotten, and even though it would have probably worked much better as an epic miniseries, or full series such as Showtime’s The Tudors, despite the subtitles (which unfortunately guarantee it’s not going to be seen by nearly as many people as it should) Henry of Navarre is a thoroughly engaging tale, a truly gripping film (even with the subtitles), and a great watch for anyone who enjoys movies such as Braveheart, Arn: Knight Templar, or even series such as The Tudors.
In terms of video quality, Henry of Navarre’s transfer is up there with the best of them; sporting superb fine detail, excellent textures, natural looking fleshtones, deep blacks, and impressive colour and contrast, as well as a consistent yet minimal noise level, and next to no noticeable print errors; making for a fan-pleasing watch, which only suggests the Blu-ray release should look spectacular.
Of similarly high quality is Henry of Navarre’s audio mix; a Dolby Digital 5.1 track that obviously can’t stand up to the best high definition audio tracks, but brings the movie to DVD with some weighty bass, plenty of ambience (helping to utilize the entire soundstage), and an engulfing score from Hans Zimmer and Henry Jackson which helps to successfully truly draw in any listener/viewer, and effortlessly compliments the numerous directional effects, battle chaos, and street noise.
The disc does falter however with its lack of special features; as aside from getting the opportunity to watch both the original foreign trailer and the UK trailer, the only bonus content is a so-called ‘making of’ that’s downright laughable, extremely short, and consists merely of a couple of candid shots taking while the cast were lining up for a battle scene, and nothing else (no interviews, no plot discussion, no make-up tests, no effects shots, nothing); disappointing anyone who would wish to learn more about the production, or the real Henry IV.
The Bottom Line:
Despite the special features being neigh-on non-existent, the Henry of Navarre DVD is still a good buy for anyone who enjoys the likes of The Tudors, Robin Hood, or Braveheart; as not only are the battle scenes strong enough to rival their big budget counterparts, but picture and audio quality are both excellent, and although you are likely to have seen a number of iterations of characters just like these several times before, Henry’s story is engaging, powerful, and one that should be told (it’s also so enthralling you’ll forget there’s subtitles involved).