The film centers on the aging four musketeers, Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and D'Artagnan, during the reign of King Louis XIV and attempts to explain the mystery of the Man in the Iron Mask, using a plot more closely related to the flamboyant 1929 version starring Douglas Fairbanks, The Iron Mask, and the 1939 version directed by James Whale, than to the original Dumas book. Like the 1998 version, the two aforementioned adaptations were also released through United Artists.
In 1662, the Kingdom of France faces bankruptcy from King Louis XIV's wars against the Dutch, which has left the country's agriculture impeded by a heavy tax burden and forced the citizens to live on rotten food. Though the country appears to be on the verge of a revolution, Louis continues to spend his time preparing for war and seducing countless women. The three musketeers have gone their separate ways; Aramis is now an aging priest, Porthos has become a womanizing drunkard, and Athos is retired and living with his only son, Raoul, who aspires to join the Musketeers. The only one who has remained in the musketeers is D'Artagnan, who now serves as the Captain of the Musketeers.
At a festival, Louis informs Aramis that the Jesuit order has declared his wars unjust and the source of public hunger and outrage. Louis instructs Aramis to secretly hunt down and kill the Jesuit leader. Louis sets his eyes on Christine Bellefort, Raoul's fiancé, but she resists his affections. A Jesuit assassin attempts to kill Louis but is stopped by D'Artagnan. Louis immediately plots to seduce Christine by having Raoul sent to the battlefront. D'Artagnan visits Athos to warn him of the danger Raoul faces but Raoul arrives and informs Athos he has been recalled to his regiment because Louis desires Christine and Raoul won't risk making Christine a widow. Athos angrily warns D'Artagnan that if Raoul is harmed then Louis will become his enemy and states D'Artagnan doesn't understand fatherhood. D'Artagnan tells Athos he will personally speak to Louis about Raoul.
An angry crowd from Paris attacks the Musketeers when they are fed rotten food but D'Artagnan calms the crowd and says he will personally speak to Louis about public hunger. Louis orders his chief advisor executed for distributing the rotten food Louis earlier ordered him to distribute, he also orders that all rioters are to be shot, and assures D'Artagnan that Raoul will soon return from the war. Raoul joins the war and is killed at the battlefront by cannon fire. Athos is enraged when he is informed of his son's death, he renounces his allegiance to the king, attempts to kill Louis at the Musketeers game but is stopped by D'Artagnan, and goes into exile. Louis invites Christine to dinner at the royal palace where he successfully seduces her by having his personal doctor treat her sick mother and sister and has them sent to recover at his country estate.
In response, Aramis summons Porthos, Athos and D'Artagnan for a secret meeting in which he reveals that he himself is the Jesuits' leader and has a plan to depose Louis. Athos and Porthos agree, but D'Artagnan refuses citing his oath of honor cannot be removed or betrayed. Athos angrily confronts D'Artagnan over his devotion and loyalty to Louis but D'Artagnan still refuses to join their plot. Athos brands him a traitor and threatens him with death should they ever meet again.
The three musketeers enter a remote prison and smuggle an unnamed prisoner in an iron mask out, taking him to the countryside, where Aramis reveals that he is Philippe, Louis's identical twin brother. Aramis reveals that the night Louis was born, his mother, Queen Anne, gave birth to twins. Louis XIII, hoping to avoid dynastic warfare between his sons, sent Philippe away to live in the countryside while naming Louis as his heir. On his deathbed, Louis XIII revealed Philippe's existence to Anne and Louis. Too superstitious to have his brother killed, Louis had Philippe imprisoned in the iron mask to keep his identity secret, something Aramis reluctantly carried out. Anne had been told by her priest that Philippe had died at birth and wished to restore Philippe's birthright but couldn't because Louis was now king. Aramis's plan is now to redeem himself and save France by replacing Louis with Philippe. The musketeers begin training Philippe to act and behave like Louis, while Athos develops fatherly feelings for him.
At a masquerade ball, the musketeers lure Louis to his quarters and subdue him, dressing Philippe in his clothes while taking Louis to the dungeons. D'Artagnan uncovers the ruse, after Christine accuses Philippe with evidence of Louis's role in Raoul's death and is not punished. He forcibly escorts Philippe to the dungeons and they confront the musketeers before they can take Louis to the Bastille. They trade twins, but Philippe is captured before the musketeers escape. Though Louis is prepared to kill Philippe, D'Artagnan begs him not to. Philippe pleads with Louis to kill him rather than put him back in the mask, which convinces Louis to send Philippe to the Bastille and have the mask placed on him again. Meanwhile, Christine commits suicide outside Louis' bedroom window out of grief.
D'Artagnan contacts his friends for help in rescuing Philippe from the Bastille. Louis, who suspected D'Artagnan would join his friends, ambushes them at the prison. Though he offers D'Artagnan clemency in exchange for surrender, D'Artagnan refuses, privately revealing to Philippe and his friends that Louis and Philippe are actually his sons from an affair with the Queen, the true reason for his loyalty to Louis. They charge one final time at Louis and his men and are fired upon; their bravery compels the soldiers to close their eyes before firing and all miss. Louis attempts to stab Philippe but wounds D'Artagnan fatally and he dies in his friends' arms. Philippe attacks Louis but stops when D'Artagnan reminds him that Louis is his brother. Athos asks D'Artagnan's forgiveness realizing D'Artagnan's loyalty to Louis was out of fatherly devotion to his son, the same fatherly devotion Athos had to his son Raoul.
D'Artagnan's top lieutenant, Andre, angered by his mentor's death, swears his men to secrecy and orders them out of the prison, siding with Philippe. They switch the twins' places again and Philippe orders Louis locked away, naming Athos, Porthos and Aramis as his royal counsel. A small funeral is held for D'Artagnan and Philippe admits to Athos that he has come to love him like a father, which Athos reciprocates. Philippe later issues Louis a royal pardon and sends him to live peacefully in the countryside, and goes on to become one of France's greatest kings.Leonardo DiCaprio as King Louis XIV/Philippe
Gabriel Byrne as D'Artagnan
Jeremy Irons as Aramis
John Malkovich as Athos
Gérard Depardieu as Porthos
Anne Parillaud as Queen Mother Anne
Judith Godrèche as Christine Bellefort
Peter Sarsgaard as Raoul, son of Athos
Edward Atterton as Lieutenant Andre
Hugh Laurie as Pierre, Advisor to King Louis XIV
David Lowe as Advisor to King Louis XIV
In this version, the "man in the iron mask" is introduced as prisoner number 64389000 based on the number related to his namesake found at the Bastille. Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is the stand in for all the scenes that are supposed to be Versailles, although in the book, the switch between Louis and Philippe happens at Vaux-le-Vicomte. Vaux-le-Vicomte, the prototype for Versailles, was historically built for Nicolas Fouquet, Superintendent of Finances for Louis XlV.
In some versions, the switch takes place at a real and actual event the "fête de Vaux" (17 August 1661), a famous party for the unveiling of the new château. The party was attended by Louis XlV, who realized that the king's own palace was seen as inferior to the new château of his non-royal finance minister. The famous fête led to the downfall of Fouquet and the building of Versailles.
The novel and the filmed versions of the tale have some differences in how they portray the royal twins and the plot to switch them.
In Alexandre Dumas' The Vicomte de Bragelonne, although the plot to replace King Louis XIV with his twin brother is foiled, the twin is initially depicted as a much more sympathetic character than the King. However, in the last part of the novel, the King is portrayed as an intelligent, more mature, and slightly misunderstood man who in fact deserves the throne - and the Musketeers themselves are split, Aramis (with assistance from Porthos) siding with the prisoner, D'Artagnan with King Louis, and Athos retiring from politics entirely. In the 1929 silent version, The Iron Mask starring Douglas Fairbanks as D'Artagnan, the King is depicted favorably and the twin brother as a pawn in an evil plot whose thwarting by D'Artagnan and his companions seems more appropriate.
In the 1998 film, the King is depicted negatively while his twin brother is sympathetically portrayed. D'Artagnan's loyalties are torn between his King and his three Musketeer friends. He is also revealed as the father of the twins, as well as being dedicated to the interests of France.
Historical persons and events depicted in the film are heavily fictionalized, as declared in an opening narration.A portrait of Louis XV can be seen in Louis XIV's apartments. Louis XV was the great-grandson and successor of Louis XIV. He was born in 1710, and the events of the film take place about half a century before his birth.
D'Artagnan's death is inconsistent with biographic fact. The character is based on Charles de Batz-Castelmore d'Artagnan, a captain of the Musketeers of the Guard, who was killed in battle during the Siege of Maastricht (1673).
Louis XIV had a real-life brother, Philippe I, Duke of Orléans, who is not depicted in the film and was not the King's twin. Louis XIV was born in 1638. Philippe I was his younger brother, born in 1640. Philippe was the founder of the House of Orléans, a cadet branch of the House of Bourbon.
Set in 1662, the film portrays the king as unmarried. The historical Louis XIV married his first wife Maria Theresa of Spain in 1660. They remained married until her death in 1683.
Notwithstanding the peace and prosperity alluded to at the film's conclusion, Louis XIV spent most of the remainder of his reign at war.
Despite receiving a rather mixed to negative critical response, the film was successful financially, benefiting greatly from Leonardo DiCaprio's post-Titanic boost in popularity. The film currently holds a 33% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 36 reviews. It holds a 48% rating on Metacritic, based on 18 reviews.
DiCaprio won a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Screen Couple for his interactions as twins in the film.
Music for this film was written by English composer Nick Glennie-Smith. Figure skater Alexei Yagudin became a gold medalist skating to this music in the 2002 Winter Olympics. He won with the program The Man in the Iron Mask, based on the movie soundtrack.
- "Heart of a King"
- "The Pig Chase"
- "The Ascension"
- "King for a King"
- "The Moon Beckons"
- "The Masked Ball"
- "A Taste of Something"
- "Kissy Kissie"
- "Training to Be King"
- "The Rose"
- "All Will Be Well"
- "All for One"
- "Greatest Mystery of Life"
- "Raoul and Christine"
- "It is a Trap"
- "Angry Athos"
- "Raoul's Letter"
- "The Palace"
- "Raoul's Death"
- "Queen Approaches"