Review: The Dead Queen
by Vitor Pinto
- António Ferreira revisits the tragic medieval love story of Don Pedro and Inês de Castro in his new film, now on general release in Portugal
In 14th-century Portugal, heir to the throne Don Pedro fell for Inês de Castro, his wife’s Spanish maid. The affair incurred the wrath of King Dom Afonso and set off a string of political intrigues that eventually led to Inês’ assassination. After the death of his father and his wife, newly crowned king Don Pedro decided to take revenge. He executed Inês’ killers, exhumed her corpse, coronated her during a public ceremony and forced the whole court to kiss the dead queen’s hand. The episode, one of the most notorious in Portuguese history, is once again being adapted for the big screen, 20 years after its most recent version by José Carlos Oliveira. This time, however, director António Ferreira brings us a different perspective on the story by adapting the novel A Trança de Inês by late author Rosa Lobato de Faria.
Instead of simply focusing on medieval times, The Dead Queen, now on general release in Portugal, enriches the tale and rewrites it over three time periods: in the 14th century, in the present day, and in a post-apocalyptic future. Using this triptych structure, the film reinvents the two lead characters as architects sharing a studio in contemporary Lisbon, and as cursed lovers living in a dystopian community with very strict rules about marriage and procreation. All of the cast members play the same characters in the three different periods, and the conceptual link between them all is the modern-day version of Pedro (Diogo Amaral). Stuck in a psychiatric hospital, in a state of delirium, Pedro seems to be mixing up episodes, characters and time periods in his mind. We are guided by his own narration throughout the entire film.
As in other movies with a similar structure – a comparison with Stephen Daldry’s The Hours seems inevitable – the three timelines function as mirrors of each other, enabling a fluid and comprehensible type of plot development. Indeed, none of the events are repeated in a different timeline; there is, instead, a chronological approach, a permanent leap into the future, and finally, different endings start to unfurl. The futuristic one, paradoxically, is the most promising.
However, what initially promised to be a wonderfully tailored script pays a high price for its narrative coherence. Compared to the omnipresence (and poetic richness) of Pedro’s narrations, the dialogue ends up playing a far less interesting role than one might have expected. Despite the heart-breaking events that unfold in the plot, some of the lines are lacking in intensity and are particularly oblivious to Inês’ importance. Indeed, Joana de Verona’s character often gets reduced to a mere idealised object of desire instead of the catalyst for a tragic passion that she was supposed to embody. Meanwhile, Don Pedro’s betrayed wife Constança gives Vera Kolodzig the opportunity to explore a more nuanced range of complex emotions and really stand out in a supporting role. The cast also includes João Lagardo as Pedro’s tyrannical father and Miguel Borges as one of Inês’ killers.
Produced by Persona Non Grata Films, The Dead Queen is being released across 40 screens around the country, distributed by Nós Audiovisuais in the last quarter of a year in which not a single local production has performed particularly well at the box office.
Ahead of the local theatrical release, The Dead Queen premiered at the Montreal Film Festival last September. The Brazilian release is scheduled for February 2019.
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