Jeanne de Saint-Rémy de Valois, orphaned at an early age, is determined to reclaim her royal title and the home taken from her family when she was a child. When she is rebuffed by Marie Antoinette and fails to achieve her goal through legal channels, she joins forces with the arrogant, well-connected gigolo Rétaux de Villette and her own wayward, womanizing husband Nicholas. They concoct a plan to earn her enough money to purchase the property.
King Louis XV had commissioned Parisian jewellers Boehmer and Bassenge to create an opulent 2,800-carat (560 g), 647-diamond necklace to present to his mistress Madame du Barry, but the king died before it was completed. Hoping to recover the high cost of the necklace, its creators try to persuade Marie Antoinette to purchase it. Knowing its history, she declines.
Jeanne approaches debauched libertine Cardinal Louis de Rohan and introduces herself as a confidante of the Queen. For years the Cardinal has yearned to regain the Queen's favor and acquire the position of Prime Minister of France, and when he is reassured by occultist Count Cagliostro that Jeanne is legitimate, he allows himself to be seduced by her promise to intervene on his behalf. He begins to correspond with the Queen and is unaware that his letters to her are intercepted and the Queen's responses are forgeries intended to manipulate him. The tone of the letters become very intimate. The cardinal becomes more and more convinced that Marie Antoinette is in love with him, and he becomes ardently enamored of her.
Jeanne allegedly arranges a meeting between the two in the garden at the Palace of Versailles. Portraying the Queen is Nicole Leguay d'Oliva, a prostitute bearing some resemblance to her. Heavily cloaked, with her face in the shadows, she agrees to forget their past disagreements. The Cardinal believes his indiscretions have been forgiven and he once again is in the Queen's good favor.
Jeanne advises the Cardinal the Queen has decided to purchase the necklace but, not wanting to offend the populace by openly buying such an expensive item, she wishes him to do so on her behalf, with a promise to reimburse him for the cost by the Feast of the Assumption. The Cardinal gladly agrees and presents the necklace to Rétaux de Villette, believing him to be an emissary from the Queen. Nicholas de Lamotte sells some of the diamonds, and Jeanne uses the profits to buy her family home.
The Cardinal begins to panic when Jeanne disappears and his correspondence with the Queen comes to an abrupt end. His concern is put to rest by an invitation to visit the palace on the Feast of the Assumption, at which time he assumes he will be repaid in full and named Prime Minister. Instead, King Louis XVI, who has been made aware of his machinations by Minister Breteuil, has him imprisoned in the Bastille. Soon to follow are everyone else involved in the plot. A trial finds the Cardinal, Count Cagliostro, and Nicole Leguay d'Oliva innocent of all charges. Rétaux de Villette is found guilty and banished from France. Jeanne is found guilty and whipped and branded before being imprisoned; she later escapes to London where she publishes her memoirs and regales the locals with her tales. Eventually, Marie Antoinette, assumed to be a key player in the affair by an increasingly angry and restless populace, meets her fate on the guillotine. We learn via an epilogue Jeanne died after falling from her hotel room window and was rumored to have been killed by Royalists.Hilary Swank as Jeanne de Saint-Rémy de Valois
Jonathan Pryce as Cardinal Louis de Rohan
Christopher Walken as Count Cagliostro
Simon Baker as Rétaux de Villette
Adrien Brody as Nicholas de Lamotte
Joely Richardson as Marie Antoinette
Brian Cox as Baron de Breteuil/Narrator
Simon Shackleton as King Louis XVI
Hermione Gulliford as Nicole Leguay d'Oliva
Hayden Panettiere as Young Jeanne de Saint-Rémy de Valois
The Affair of the Necklace earned negative reviews from critics, with most of the criticism focusing on the casting of Hilary Swank as Jeanne, whom they felt didn't seem comfortable within the film's period setting and refined dialogue. The costume design and stylized period setting however were widely praised. The film currently holds a 15% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 61 reviews and holds a Metacritic score of 42 based on 22 reviews.
CNN Entertainment praised Hilary Swank and Charles Shyer's contributions to the film, writing, "Writer/director/producer Charles Shyer is known for such lightweight comedies as Baby Boom and Father of the Bride, but he's made a major change with this lavish period piece, shot in Prague on a modest $30 million budget. He also took somewhat of a chance with Oscar winner Hilary Swank in the leading role. Her graphic portrayal of Brandon Teena in Boys Don't Cry (1999) gave no hint as to whether or not she could pull off [an] 18th-century drama complete with feathered hats and tight corsets. She can."
Kevin Thomas of The L.A. Times wrote, "Shyer and Sweet bring consistent clarity and ever-increasing depth to the playing out of Jeanne's bold scheming and single-minded resolve; a tone of brisk wit gives way effortlessly to poignancy and ultimately tragedy."
Richard Roeper found the film to be very entertaining and was willing to overlook the script's historical liberties, stating "I'm sure that it's sort of a 'Fractured Fairy Tale' version of the real events that happened, but the fact that it was inspired by real-life events made me enjoy it all the more."
Awards and nominations
The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Costume Design and the Satellite Award for Best Costume Design, but lost to Moulin Rouge! in both instances.
Differences between the film and the real affairIn the film, it is shown that Jeanne and her family were rich and had a family estate. In reality, Jeanne and her family were very poor, living in the slums of Paris.
The film portrays Jeanne as a member of the House of Valois. In reality, she was a member of an illegitimate branch of the family, the house of Valois-Saint-Remy, descended from Henry de Saint Rémy, an illegitimate son of Henry II.
Jeanne had two siblings; an older brother, Jacques, and a younger sister Marie-Anne. In a deleted scene, Jeanne is shown with her unnamed baby brother.
According to her memoirs, Jeanne's father was the son of a minor nobleman. Her father was deep in debt and sold off the family property when Jeanne was young. There is no mentioning of him being a reformist like in the film. He tried to regain his wealth when the family moved to Paris, but he died later and Jeanne's mother ran away, leaving her children to beg on the streets. Jeanne and her family was seen as no threat to the current monarchy.
In the film, Marie Antoinette explains that Madame du Barry, Louis XV's mistress was recently banished from the French court. In fact, du Barry was banished from Versailles in 1774 shortly before the king died from smallpox, and the necklace was presented to Antoinette in 1778, and again in 1781, she refused the necklace both times.
Jeanne was in fact a con-artist, who sought to use the necklace to gain wealth, power, and possibly royal patronage. In the film, Jeanne used the diamonds as profit to buy her family estate.
Nicolas de la Motte actually sold the diamonds in London. He did not sell any in Paris.
Jeanne did escape to London, disguised as a boy, where she died from falling from a hotel window in 1791. Some speculate that she was trying to hide from tax payers, while others say it was an act of revenge from French royalists.
Count Cagliostro left France for England after he was acquitted. He later went to Rome, where he was accused and imprisoned for being a forger. He died at the Fortess of San Leo in 1795.
Cardinal de Rohan actually kept the forged letters. When he was arrested, he presented the letters and the sales contract to the king, the queen, the Minister of the Court, and the Keeper of the Seals. The king furiously pointed out the forged signature "Marie Antoniette de France" and stated that royalty do not use surnames. In the film, de Rohan had the letters burned.
Cardinal de Rohan's acquittal received popular enthusiasm as a victory over the royal court, partially the Queen. He was expelled from his position as grand almoner and he exiled himself to his abbey of Chaise-Dieu. After the revolution, he left for Strasbourg in the Holy Roman Empire. He died in Ettenheim in 1805.